Example - Tasks

Users normally define tasks in Visual Studio Code in a tasks.json file. However, there are some tasks during software development that can be automatically detected by VS Code. This topic describes how extensions can auto-detect and provide tasks to end-users.

The following description is based on the Rake task provider example

Task Definition

To uniquely identify a task in the system, an extension contributing a task needs to define the properties that identify a task. In the Rake example, the task definition looks like this:

"taskDefinitions": [
        "type": "rake",
        "required": [
        "properties": {
            "task": {
                "type": "string",
                "description": "The Rake task to customize"
            "file": {
                "type": "string",
                "description": "The Rake file that provides the task. Can be omitted."

This contributes a task definition for rake tasks. The task definition has two attributes task and file. task is the name of the Rake task and file points to the Rake file that contains the task. The task property is required, the file property is optional. If the file attribute is omitted, the rake file in the root of the workspace folder is used.

Task provider

Analogous to language providers that let extensions support code completion, an extension can register a task provider to compute all available tasks. This is done using the vscode.tasks namespace as shown in the following code snippet:

import * as vscode from 'vscode';

let rakePromise: Thenable<vscode.Task[]> | undefined = undefined;
const taskProvider = vscode.tasks.registerTaskProvider('rake', {
    provideTasks: () => {
        if (!rakePromise) {
            rakePromise = getRakeTasks();
        return rakePromise;
    resolveTask(_task: vscode.Task): vscode.Task | undefined {
        return undefined;

The resolveTask method returns undefined and is currently not called by VS Code. It is there to optimize task loading in the future.

The getRakeTasks implementation does the following:

  • Lists all rake tasks defined in a rake file using the rake -AT -f Rakefile command.
  • Parses the stdio output.
  • For every listed task, creates a vscode.Task implementation.

Since a Rake task instantiation needs a task definition as defined in the package.json file, VS Code also defines the structure using a TypeScript interface like this:

interface RakeTaskDefinition extends vscode.TaskDefinition {

     * The task name
    task: string;

     * The rake file containing the task
    file?: string;

Assuming that the output comes from a task called compile, the corresponding task creation then looks like this:

let task = new vscode.Task({ type: 'rake', task: 'compile' }, 'compile', 'rake', new vscode.ShellExecution('rake compile'));

For every task listed in the output, a corresponding VS Code task is created using the above pattern and then returns the array of all tasks from the getRakeTasks call.

The ShellExecution executes the rake compile command in the shell that is specific for the OS (for example under Windows the command would be executed in PowerShell, under Ubuntu in bash). If the task should directly execute a process (without spawning a shell), the vscode.ProcessExecution can be used. ProcessExecution has the advantage that the extension has full control over the arguments passed to the process. Using ShellExecution makes use of the shell command interpretation (like wildcard expanding under bash). If the ShellExecution is created with a single command line, then the extension needs to ensure proper quoting and escaping (for example to handle white spaces) inside the command.