Running and Debugging Your Extension

You can use VS Code to develop an extension for VS Code and VS Code provides several tools that simplify extension development:

  • Yeoman generators to scaffold an extension
  • IntelliSense, hover, and code navigation for the extension API
  • Compiling TypeScript (when implementing an extension in TypeScript)
  • Running and debugging an extension
  • Publishing an extension

Creating an Extension

We suggest you start your extension by scaffolding out the basic files. You can use the yo code Yeoman generator to do this and we cover the details in the extension generator topic. The generator will ensure everything is set up so you have a great development experience.

Running and Debugging your Extension

You can easily run your extension under the debugger by pressing F5. This opens a new VS Code window with your extension loaded. Output from your extension shows up in the Debug Console. You can set break points, step through your code, and inspect variables either in the Debug view or the Debug Console.

Debugging extensions

Let's peek at what is going on behind the scenes. If you are writing your extension in TypeScript then your code must first be compiled to JavaScript.

Compiling TypeScript

The TypeScript compilation is setup as follows in the generated extension:

  • A tsconfig.json defines the compile options for the TypeScript compiler. Read more about it at the TypeScript wiki or in our TypeScript Language Section.
  • A TypeScript compiler with the proper version is included inside the node_modules folder.
  • The API definition is included in node_modules/vscode.

The TypeScript compilation is triggered before running your extension. This is done with the preLaunchTask attribute defined in the .vscode/launch.json file which declares a task to be executed before starting the debugging session. The task is defined inside the .vscode/tasks.json file.

Note: The TypeScript compiler is started in watch mode, so that it compiles the files as you make changes.

Launching your Extension

Your extension is launched in a new window with the title Extension Development Host. This window runs VS Code or more precisely the Extension Host with your extension under development.

You can accomplish the same from the command line using the extensionDevelopmentPath option. This option tells VS Code in what other locations it should look for extensions, e.g.,

code --extensionDevelopmentPath=_my_extension_folder.

Once the Extension Host is launched, VS Code attaches the debugger to it and starts the debug session.

This is what happens when pressing F5:

  1. .vscode/launch.json instructs to first run a task named npm.
  2. .vscode/tasks.json defines the task npm as a shell command to npm run compile.
  3. package.json defines the script compile as tsc -watch -p ./
  4. This eventually invokes the TypeScript compiler included in node_modules, which generates out/src/extension.js and out/src/
  5. Once the TypeScript compilation task is finished, the code --extensionDevelopmentPath=${workspaceRoot} process is spawned.
  6. The second instance of VS Code is launched in a special mode and it searches for an extension at ${workspaceRoot}.

Changing and Reloading your Extension

Since the TypeScript compiler is run in watch mode, the TypeScript files are automatically compiled as you make changes. You can observe the compilation progress on the left side of the VS Code status bar. On the status bar you can also see the error and warning counts of a compilation. When the compilation is complete with no errors, you must reload the Extension Development Host so that it picks up your changes. You have two options to do this:

  • Click on the debug restart action to relaunch the Extension Development Host window.
  • Press Ctrl+R (Mac: Cmd+R) in the Extension Development Host window.

Next Steps

Common Questions

Q: How can I use API from my extension that was introduced in a newer release of VS Code?

A: If your extension is using an API that was introduced in a newer release of VS Code, you have to declare this dependency in the engines field of the package.json file of the extension.

Here are the steps:

  • Set the minimal version of VS Code that your extension requires in the engine field of the package.json.
  • Make sure your devDependency for the vscode module is at least 0.11.0.
  • Add a postinstall script to your package.json like this:
"scripts": {
    "postinstall": "node ./node_modules/vscode/bin/install"
  • Type npm install from the root of your extension.
  • The vscode module will download the appropriate version of vscode.d.ts based on the engine field you declared.
  • Go back to VS Code and see how the API for the specific version you chose appears in IntelliSense and validation.