Example - Hello World

Your First Extension

This document will take you through creating your first VS Code extension ("Hello World") and will explain the basic VS Code extensibility concepts.

In this walkthrough, you'll add a new command to VS Code which will display a simple "Hello World" message. Later in the walkthrough, you'll interact with the VS Code editor and query for the user's currently selected text.


You need Node.js installed and available in your $PATH.

Generate a New Extension

The simplest way to add your own functionality to VS Code is through adding a command. A command registers a callback function which can be invoked from the Command Palette or with a key binding.

We have written a Yeoman generator to help get you started. Install Yeoman and the Yeoman VS Code Extension generator and scaffold a new extension:

npm install -g yo generator-code
yo code

For the hello world extension, you can either create a TypeScript extension or a JavaScript one. For this example, we pick a TypeScript extension.

The command generator

Running your Extension

  • Launch VS Code, choose File > Open Folder and pick the folder that you generated.
  • Press F5 or click on the Debug icon and click Start.
  • A new instance of VS Code will start in a special mode (Extension Development Host) and this new instance is now aware of your extension.
  • Press ⇧⌘P (Windows, Linux Ctrl+Shift+P) and run the command named Hello World.
  • Congratulations! You've just created and executed your first VS Code command!

Running VS Code with an extension

The Structure of an Extension

After running, the generated extension should have the following structure:

├── .gitignore
├── .vscode                     // VS Code integration
│   ├── launch.json
│   ├── settings.json
│   └── tasks.json
├── .vscodeignore
├── README.md
├── src                         // sources
│   └── extension.ts            // extension.js, in case of JavaScript extension
├── test                        // tests folder
│   ├── extension.test.ts       // extension.test.js, in case of JavaScript extension
│   └── index.ts                // index.js, in case of JavaScript extension
├── node_modules
│   ├── vscode                  // language services
│   └── typescript              // compiler for typescript (TypeScript only)
├── out                         // compilation output (TypeScript only)
│   ├── src
│   |   ├── extension.js
│   |   └── extension.js.map
│   └── test
│       ├── extension.test.js
│       ├── extension.test.js.map
│       ├── index.js
│       └── index.js.map
├── package.json                // extension's manifest
├── tsconfig.json               // jsconfig.json, in case of JavaScript extension
└── vsc-extension-quickstart.md // extension development quick start

Let's go through the purpose of all these files and explain what they do:

The extension manifest: package.json

Example TypeScript extension manifest

    "name": "myFirstExtension",
    "description": "",
    "version": "0.0.1",
    "publisher": "",
    "engines": {
        "vscode": "^1.5.0"
    "categories": [
    "activationEvents": [
    "main": "./out/src/extension",
    "contributes": {
        "commands": [{
            "command": "extension.sayHello",
            "title": "Hello World"
    "scripts": {
        "vscode:prepublish": "tsc -p ./",
        "compile": "tsc -watch -p ./",
        "postinstall": "node ./node_modules/vscode/bin/install",
        "test": "node ./node_modules/vscode/bin/test"
    "devDependencies": {
       "typescript": "^2.0.3",
        "vscode": "^1.5.0",
        "mocha": "^2.3.3",
        "@types/node": "^6.0.40",
        "@types/mocha": "^2.2.32"

Note: A JavaScript extension doesn't require the scripts field as no compilation is needed.

  • This specific package.json describes an extension that:
  • contributes an entry to the Command Palette (⇧⌘P (Windows, Linux Ctrl+Shift+P)) with the label "Hello world" that will invoke a command "extension.sayHello".
  • requests to get loaded (activationEvents) when the command "extension.sayHello" is invoked.
  • has its main JavaScript code in a file called "./out/src/extension.js".

Note: VS Code does not load the code of an extension eagerly at start-up. An extension must describe, through the activationEvents property under what conditions it should get activated (loaded).

Generated Code

The generated extension's code is in extension.ts (or extension.js in case of a JavaScript extension):

// The module 'vscode' contains the VS Code extensibility API
// Import the module and reference it with the alias vscode in your code below
import * as vscode from 'vscode';

// this method is called when your extension is activated
// your extension is activated the very first time the command is executed
export function activate(context: vscode.ExtensionContext) {

    // Use the console to output diagnostic information (console.log) and errors (console.error)
    // This line of code will only be executed once when your extension is activated
    console.log('Congratulations, your extension "my-first-extension" is now active!');

    // The command has been defined in the package.json file
    // Now provide the implementation of the command with  registerCommand
    // The commandId parameter must match the command field in package.json
    var disposable = vscode.commands.registerCommand('extension.sayHello', () => {
        // The code you place here will be executed every time your command is executed

        // Display a message box to the user
        vscode.window.showInformationMessage('Hello World!');

  • Each extension should export from its main file a function named activate(), which VS Code will invoke only once when any of the activationEvents described in the package.json file occur.
  • If an extension makes use of OS resources (e.g. spawns processes), the extension can export from its main file a function named deactivate() where it can do clean-up work and VS Code will invoke that function on shutdown.
  • This specific extension imports the vscode API and then registers a command, associating a function to be called when the command "extension.sayHello" gets invoked. The command's implementation displays a "Hello world" message in VS Code.

Note: The contributes section of the package.json adds an entry to the Command Palette. The code in extension.ts/.js defines the implementation of "extension.sayHello".

Note: For TypeScript extensions, the generated file out/src/extension.js will be loaded at runtime and executed by VS Code.

Miscellaneous files

  • .vscode/launch.json defines launching VS Code in the Extension Development mode. It also points with preLaunchTask to a task defined in .vscode/tasks.json that runs the TypeScript compiler.
  • .vscode/settings.json by default excludes the out folder. You can modify which file types you want to hide.
  • .gitignore - Tells Git version control which patterns to ignore.
  • .vscodeignore - Tells the packaging tool which files to ignore when publishing the extension.
  • README.md - README file describing your extension for VS Code users.
  • vsc-extension-quickstart.md - A Quick Start guide for you.
  • test/extension.test.ts - you can put your extension unit tests in here and run your tests against the VS Code API (see Testing Your Extension)

Extension Activation

Now that the roles of the files included in the extension are clarified, here is how your extension gets activated:

  • The extension development instance discovers the extension and reads its package.json file.
  • Later when you press ⇧⌘P (Windows, Linux Ctrl+Shift+P):
  • The registered commands are displayed in the Command Palette.
  • In this list there is now an entry "Hello world" that is defined in the package.json.
  • When selecting the "Hello world" command:
  • The command "extension.sayHello" is invoked:
    • An activation event "onCommand:extension.sayHello" is created.
    • All extensions listing this activation event in their activationEvents are activated.
      • The file at ./out/src/extension.js gets loaded in the JavaScript VM.
      • VS Code looks for an exported function activate and calls it.
      • The command "extension.sayHello" is registered and its implementation is now defined.
  • The command "extension.sayHello" implementation function is invoked.
  • The command implementation displays the "Hello World" message.

Debugging your Extension

Simply set a breakpoint, for example inside the registered command and run the "Hello world" command in the Extension Development VS Code instance.

Debugging the extension

Note: For TypeScript extensions, even though VS Code loads and executes out/src/extension.js, you are actually able to debug the original TypeScript code due to the generated source map out/src/extension.js.map and VS Code's debugger support for source maps.

Tip: The Debug Console will show all the messages you log to the console.

To learn more about the extension development environment.

A Simple Change

In extension.ts (or extension.js, in a JavaScript extension), try replacing the extension.sayHello command implementation to show the number of characters selected in the editor:

var editor = vscode.window.activeTextEditor;
if (!editor) {
    return; // No open text editor

var selection = editor.selection;
var text = editor.document.getText(selection);

// Display a message box to the user
vscode.window.showInformationMessage('Selected characters: ' + text.length);

Tip: Once you make changes to the extension source code, you need to restart the Extension Development instance of VS Code. You can do that by using Ctrl+R (Mac: Cmd+R) in the second instance or by clicking the Restart button at the top of your primary VS Code instance.

Running the modified extension

Installing your Extension Locally

So far, the extension you have written only runs in a special instance of VS Code, the Extension Development instance. To get your extension running in all instances of VS Code, you need to copy it to a new folder under your local extensions folder:

  • Windows: %USERPROFILE%\.vscode\extensions
  • Mac/Linux: $HOME/.vscode/extensions

Publishing your Extension

Read about how to Share an Extension.

Next Steps

In this walkthrough, we've seen a very simple extension. For a more detailed example, see the Word Count Example which shows how to target a specific language (Markdown) and listen to the editor's document changed events.

If you'd like to read more generally about the extension APIs, try these topics: