Context sensitive, configurable highlighting for programming modes.
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Highlight Programming Extras

This package supports highlighting regular expressions into a setting that can be adjusted.

Where highlighting may be set local to a buffer, directory ... project etc.

Highlighting definitions is applied separately to comments, strings or other code.

While this can be used to highlight arbitrary expressions, common use cases include:

  • URL's and emails in comments.
  • Issue tracker ticket numbers in comments.
  • Literal text using quotes or back-ticks.
  • Tags such as TODO, FIXME etc.

Since projects have their own conventions for adding structured text in comments this package aims to support customized highlighting in a few lines.


This package was written to support easily highlighting arbitrary terms in source code, without the need to rely on multiple packages or writing custom highlighting code for each use.


This package exposes the following functions.


Enable the buffer local mode.


Run this so customization is updated while the mode is active.


Load a preset associated with the current major-mode (when available), see: the presets section below.


Enable the mode globally.



The main variable used to set highlighting, this is a list of lists representing (regex regex-subexpr context face)


The regular expression to match.


Group to use when highlighting the expression (zero for the entire expression).

May also be a list of groups, see the Multi-Group Matching example.


A symbol (or list of symbols) in:

Symbol Description
'comment All comments (both comment-only & comment-doc).
'comment-only Only non-documentation comments.
'comment-doc Only documentation comments.
'string All strings (both string-only & string-doc).
'string-only Only non-documentation strings.
'string-doc Documentation strings.
nil Non comments or strings (other source-code).

This limits the highlighting to only these parts of the text, where nil is used for anything that doesn't match a comment or string.

A list of these symbols is also supported (allowing an entry to match multiple contexts).


The face to apply as a symbol, a string or a face property list, for example: '(:background "#666600" :foreground "#FFFFFF").

May also be a list of faces, see the Multi-Group Matching example.

This defaults to matching URL's and email addresses.

hl-prog-extra-preset nil

When non-nil, include presets for the current major-mode (when available).

hl-prog-extra-global-ignore-modes nil

A list of modes that won't enable highlighting from global-hl-prog-extra-mode.

hl-prog-extra-global-ignore-buffer nil

When not nil, the buffer won't enable highlighting from global-hl-prog-extra-mode.

This may also be a function that takes a single buffer argument, where returning nil will enable highlighting anything else will not.


Optionally you may use presets included with this package. This is done to provide useful highlighting associated with specific languages.

If you wish to use presets, when the variable hl-prog-extra-preset is non-nil they are included when available.

Otherwise you may call a function which returns presets that can be used to build hl-prog-extra-list yourself.

The following function returns a list of values associated with a major mode.

hl-prog-extra-preset with arguments (major-mode quiet .. args)

Optional arguments:


The major mode to load a preset for (as a string), this defaults to the current major mode.


No message when there is no preset for the major-mode.


The remaining arguments can be used to control the presets. Keyword value style arguments are to be used with common argument (for example) :no-string-escape.

See the preset function's doc-string for details.

Currently presets are included for:

  • c++-mode
  • c-mode
  • lua-mode
  • python-mode

Presets for other modes are welcome.


Without any configuration, enabling the mode globally will highlight URL's and email addresses within comments:

(use-package hl-prog-extra)

This is a more involved example that defines it's own matches, only loading on some modes:

(use-package hl-prog-extra
  :commands (hl-prog-extra-mode)
  (setq hl-prog-extra-list
      ;; Match `some.text` as a constant.
      '("\\_<[^`\n]+\\_>" 0 comment font-lock-doc-face)
      ;; Match http://xyz (URL).
      '("\\<https?://[^[:blank:]]*" 0 comment font-lock-constant-face)
      ;; Match <> email address.
      '("<\\([[:alnum:]\\._-]+@[[:alnum:]\\._-]+\\)>" 1 comment font-lock-constant-face))))

;; Enable for modes.
(add-hook 'python-mode-hook #'hl-prog-extra-mode)
(add-hook 'sh-mode-hook #'hl-prog-extra-mode)

Multi-Group Matching

Withing a single expression match you may wish to assign multiple faces.

This is supported by using lists for regex-subexpr & face settings.

Both lists need to be the same length where each sub-expression matches the corresponding face.

This example configuration shows how multiple matches can be used with tags in comments such as NOTE(my name) can show text within the parenthesis with a different color:

(setq hl-prog-extra-list
    "\\<\\(NOTE\\)\\((\\([^)+]+\\))\\)?" '(0 3) 'comment
      '(:background "#006000" :foreground "#FFFFFF")
      '(:background "#006000" :foreground "#BBBBBB")))

    "\\<\\(TODO\\|WORKAROUND\\)\\((\\([^)+]+\\))\\)?" '(0 3) 'comment
      '(:background "#707000" :foreground "#FFFFFF")
      '(:background "#707000" :foreground "#BBBBBB")))

    "\\<\\(FIXME\\|XXX\\|WARNING\\)\\((\\([^)+]+\\))\\)?" '(0 3) 'comment
      '(:background "#800000" :foreground "#FFFFFF")
      '(:background "#800000" :foreground "#BBBBBB"))))


  • Highlighting is performed in a single pass, to avoid the overhead of re-scanning the buffer for each search term.
  • The use of comment and string contexts is a result of emacs internal syntactic analysis, which exposes this information before highlighting.


  • Only a single face is supported per-match.
  • Categories are limited to 'comment, 'string and nil.


The package is available in melpa as hl-prog-extra.

(use-package hl-prog-extra
  :commands (hl-prog-extra-mode))


  • The package sidecar-locals provides out-of-source configuration, this is a convenient alternative to file or directory-locals that makes it convenient to add project-specific highlighting.

Further Work

  • Elements could optionally be made into links, allowing project specific but-tracker tickets to open URL's when clicked on for e.g.
  • A predicate function could be (optionally) defined to perform additional checks before highlighting, this would allow checking additional context when considering matches.