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Scott Spence

Making a robots.txt syntax highlighter for VS Code

7 min read

I was asking ChatGPT to read some posts from my site and summarise them for me, I was a bit surprised when I got the response “I wasn’t able to directly access the URL you provided due to restrictions on the webpage.” from the bot. It was then that I recalled that I’d blocked ChatGPT in the robots.txt file on my site. 😅

I’ve had all sorts of stuff added to that file over the years, and to be honest, this is the only time I’ve known for sure that it works! 😂

Anyway, real quick, if you don’t want ChatGPT crawling your site, add this to your robots.txt file:

# Specific directives for GPTBot
User-agent: GPTBot
Disallow: /

So, that’s fine, right, but I wanted to add some syntax highlighting to the file in VS Code. I had a quick look on the marketplace, and there’s nothing there that did that one thing, so, I made one. 😁

Yes, this is a post about me making a my robots.txt file look nice in my editor, and the way I went about it.

I have previous!

If you check out my publisher profile on the Visual Studio Marketplace you’ll see that I have done this sort of thing before. Not for a while though!

So, over 7 years ago was the last time I made a VS Code extension, and I’ve not done anything similar since.

This is serving as a record for future me on the things I did and helpful to anyone else doing something similar.

Install dependencies

So there’s yo ( which is a scaffolding tool that essentially generates the files and folders, then there’s the generator-code specifically for generating VS Code extensions.

pnpm install -g yo generator-code

In summary, yo is the tool that manages the scaffolding process, and generator-code is the specific template for scaffolding out VS Code extensions.

With them installed I can now generate the extension.

Generate the extension

Put the two together installed dependencies together an you get yo code which will ask you a bunch of questions about the extension I just went through these as a best guess, I can change them later if needed.

yo code

     _-----_     ╭──────────────────────────╮
    |       |    │   Welcome to the Visual  │
    |--(o)--|    │   Studio Code Extension  │
   `---------´   │        generator!( _´U`_ )    ╰──────────────────────────╯
    /___A___   /
     |  ~  |
 ´   `  |° ´ Y `

Rather than leave the output from the generator in the text output I’ll add the questions to a list here:

  • ? What type of extension do you want to create?
    • I picked New Language Support
  • Enter the URL (http, https) or the file path of the tmLanguage grammar or press ENTER to start with a new grammar.
  • ? URL or file to import, or none for new:
    • Left empty
  • ? What’s the name of your extension?
    • robots.txt syntax highlighting
  • ? What’s the identifier of your extension?
    • robots-txt-syntax-highlighting
  • ? What’s the description of your extension?
    • Syntax highlighting for robots.txt files
  • ? Language id:
    • robots-txt, this means that that language can be selected in VS Code
  • ? Language name:
    • robots.txt
  • ? File extensions:
    • .txt
  • ? Scope names:
    • Left empty
  • ? Initialize a git repository?
    • Yes

Now, that was a lot of scary and confusing questions! 😅 I’ve created a robots-txt language? Well, yeah, but only for use in the extension.

Now the project is made for me and I can open it in VS Code.

The project structure looks like this:

├── .vscode
│   └── launch.json
├── syntaxes
│   └── robots-txt.tmLanguage.json
├── .gitattributes
├── .gitignore
├── .vscodeignore
├── language-configuration.json
├── package.json

Project structure

I’ll go through each file and my understanding of what it does.


// A launch configuration that launches the extension inside a new window
// Use IntelliSense to learn about possible attributes.
// Hover to view descriptions of existing attributes.
// For more information, visit:
  "version": "0.2.0",
  "configurations": [
      "name": "Extension",
      "type": "extensionHost",
      "request": "launch",
      "args": ["--extensionDevelopmentPath=${workspaceFolder}"]

This is the configuration for launching the extension in a new window so I can test out the extension is working as expected, I can hit F5 to launch the extension in a new window.

I left it as is.


This is the grammar for the language, I’ll be wanting to match things in the patterns section that are specific to a robots.txt file.

  "$schema": "",
  "name": "robots.txt",
  "patterns": [
      "include": "#keywords"
      "include": "#strings"
  "repository": {
    "keywords": {
      "patterns": [
          "name": "keyword.control.robots-txt",
          "match": "\b(if|while|for|return)\b"
    "strings": {
      "name": "string.quoted.double.robots-txt",
      "begin": """,
      "end": """,
      "patterns": [
          "name": "constant.character.escape.robots-txt",
          "match": "\\."
  "scopeName": ""

This got switched out with this:

  "$schema": "",
  "name": "robots.txt",
  "fileTypes": ["txt"],
  "firstLineMatch": "^User-agent:",
  "patterns": [
      "match": "^(User-agent|Disallow|Allow|Sitemap|Host):(\s*)(.*)",
      "captures": {
        "1": {
          "name": "keyword.control.robots-txt"
        "3": {
          "name": "string.unquoted.robots-txt"
      "match": "#.*",
      "name": "comment.line.number-sign.robots-txt"
  "scopeName": "source.robots-txt"

The match pattern is updated to capture three distinct groups:

  1. The keyword (User-agent, Disallow, Allow, Sitemap, Host)
  2. Any whitespace characters (\\s\*)
  3. The remainder of the line (.\*)

As I don’t want to capture the whitespace, I’ve not assigned it a scope. (i.e. that’s why it goes from 1 to 3)

So, using the captures property, I can then assign different scopes to each captured group. Group 1 is assigned the keyword.control.robots-txt scope, and group 3 is assigned the string.unquoted.robots-txt scope.


This is the configuration for the language, as there’s not much to the robots.txt language the majority of this will be stripped out.

  "comments": {
    // symbol used for single line comment. Remove this entry if your language does not support line comments
    "lineComment": "//",
    // symbols used for start and end a block comment. Remove this entry if your language does not support block comments
    "blockComment": ["/*", "*/"]
  // symbols used as brackets
  "brackets": [
    ["{", "}"],
    ["[", "]"],
    ["(", ")"]
  // symbols that are auto closed when typing
  "autoClosingPairs": [
    ["{", "}"],
    ["[", "]"],
    ["(", ")"],
    [""", """],
    ["'", "'"]
  // symbols that can be used to surround a selection
  "surroundingPairs": [
    ["{", "}"],
    ["[", "]"],
    ["(", ")"],
    [""", """],
    ["'", "'"]

Here’s what I replaced it with:

  "comments": {
    "lineComment": "#"
  "brackets": [],
  "autoClosingPairs": [],
  "surroundingPairs": [],
  "folding": {
    "markers": {
      "start": "^User-agent:",
      "end": "^\s*$"
  "indentationRules": {
    "increaseIndentPattern": "^User-agent:",
    "decreaseIndentPattern": "^\s*$"

I added in the folding and indentationRules properties to enable folding and indentation and added the lineComment property to specify the comment character.

Install VSCE

I’ll need to install the Visual Studio Code Extension Manager so I can package and publish the extension.

pnpm i -g @vscode/vsce

Package the extension

Now I can package and publish the extension.

I’ll set the package version with npm

npm version patch # major 1.0.0 | minor 0.1.0 | patch 0.0.1

This will increment the version in package.json and create a git tag.

Once I’m done I can push the tag to GitHub:

git push --tags

Then I can package the extension:

vsce package

This will create a file called robots-txt-0.0.1.vsix this is what’s going to go to the marketplace.

Test the extension

I can test the extension by hitting F5 in the project that will bring up the extension in a sandboxed environment where I can check the highlighting is to my expectation.

Publish the extension

Now I’m happy with the extension I can publish it to the marketplace.

vsce publish

Now I get a prompt for a personal access token:

vsce publish
 WARNING  Failed to open credential store. Falling back to storing secrets clear-text in: /home/scott/.vsce
Personal Access Token for publisher 'spences10':

I already have a marketplace account so, I’ll need to create that token now!

Create a personal access token

To get my access token created, I’ll go here:

Change your username if your doing this yourself.

I’ll navigate through the notes on working with extensions on the VS Code documentation to create the token. The steps are:

  • Name: whatever (I’ll set the token to expire a day later)
  • Organisation: my organisation (or whatever yours is)
  • Scopes: Custom defined
  • Click show all scopes, select:
    • Marketplace
      • Check Acquire and Manage
  • Create

Copypasta the token into the prompt and hit enter.

Done! 🎉


In a nice little tangent, I set about a minor yet intriguing project to beautify the robots.txt file in my VS Code editor.

This serves as a note to future Scott but, I hope you found it useful too! 💫

There's a reactions leaderboard you can check out too.

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