Tips to use VSCode more efficiently

vscode customized

Say you’ve already been using VSCode for some time now. You’ve changed the color theme (if not, I highly recommend material theme), you’ve tweaked some essential settings and installed a couple of popular extensions.

Maybe you know your way around it enough to get the work done. That’s perfectly fine, but there’s a good chance you’re missing out on some of its many features

This is a collection of settings, extensions and shortcuts, that proved especially useful for my job as a web developer.

jsconfig.json

One of the most overlooked essential features of VSCode is jsconfig.json. If you open your JS project in VSCode, it doesn’t know the files in it are related. It treats every file as an individual unit. You can tell it about your project by creating jsconfig.json file at the root of your project.

jsconfig.json (among other things ) enables smart go to definition, that works with various module resolution algorithms. In practice - it means that you can now ⌘ click on various references in your code, and it’ll take you to the definitions of them. I highly recommend you reading more about it, but this is what I use most of the time:

{
  "compilerOptions": {
    "baseUrl": "src/",
    "target": "esnext",
    "module": "commonjs"
  },
  "exclude": [
    "node_modules",
  ]
}

A settings primer

Note: If you already know where to find VSCode settings and how to edit them, jump to the next section

VSCode stores settings in a JSON-like (the so-called jsonc - JSON with comments mode) file. It can be accessed with ⌘ , shortcut, or through Code > Preferences > Settings. (Go here to learn more about VSCode settings)

After you open up the settings, you won’t see the raw JSON right away. VSCode has received a nice UI for them lately, but for the purpose of this article it’s easier to share the settings in raw key-value form, so we won’t be using it.

You can access the settings JSON by clicking on the { } icon in the tab bar.

In case it’s empty (you haven’t made any modification to the default settings yet), let’s create an empty object, so it’s a valid JSON:

vscode settings

Theme

This might seem basic, but it doesn’t mean it’s not important. You spend a lot of time looking at code, so you might as well spend some time choosing a theme that’s easy on your eyes, and make the code look pretty as well.

As I’ve already mentioned, I’m using Material Theme Ocean High Contrast variant. I’ve tried many over the years, but settled on this one.

One more thing - those nice file / folder icons are achieved through Material Theme Icons extension:

sidebar customized

This is how your settings (and editor) now look like:

vscode settings edited

Nice right?

Quick tip: You can change Material Theme accent color by searching „accent“ in command palette.

Font

The right font can make your code more legible and pleasant to look at. My programming font of choice is Fira Code - a robust & well-made programming font with beautiful ligatures. Try it! Did I mention it’s free?

Indentation

Whatever side in “tabs vs spaces” debate you’re on, you can set it up like this:

"editor.detectIndentation": true,
"editor.insertSpaces": true
"editor.tabSize": 2

Switching between editor and explorer

You can easily toggle between code editor and project files explorer with ⌘ ⇧ E shortcut. When you’re inside the explorer, you can use the same keys for common operations as in MacOS finder - arrow keys to navigate, to rename file / folder and ⌘ ↓ to open current file.

Quick tip: Reveal the focused file / folder in native MacOS finder with ⌥ ⌘ R.

Emmet

Emmet is a plugin for many popular text editors which greatly improves HTML & CSS workflow by enabling clever abbreviations, expansions, common actions (wrapping element inside other element) and so on. You may argue you’re not writing HTML directly, but it can be easily configured to play nicely with frameworks like React and Vue, because they use similar html-like markup.

VSCode ships with Emmet support out of the box for html, haml, jade, slim, jsx, xml, xsl, css, scss, sass, less and stylus files.

So, by default, you’d have to use .jsx file extension, to get Emmet support for JSX files. Say you only work with .js files, so you have two options:

  1. tell Emmet to run in .js files:

    "emmet.includeLanguages": {
    "javascript": "javascriptreact",
    }

    (enable javascriptreact Emmet syntax in javascript files)

  2. tell VSCode to treat any .js file just like .jsx (it means to use javascriptreact syntax for all .js files as well), so Emmet sees is as if it was a .jsx file:

    "files.associations": {
    "*.js": "javascriptreact"
    }

I went for the second one - I never use .jsx file extension, so I want to have VSCode React support in .js files anyway.

These Emmet commands are my most-used ones:

  • expand abbreviation - to expand string to JSX element
  • wrap with abbreviation - to wrap existing JSX with another element
  • split / join tag - making self-closing tags from tag pairs (e.g. from the output of expand abbreviation) and vice versa

Emmet is really powerful and can save you a lot of time, so I highly recommend you checking out their demos on emmet.io site.

Quick-Open files for real

Let’s open a file using Quick Open command: ⌘ P.

Notice the tab bar - file name being written in italics means the tab is in preview mode. By default, if you select the file from the sidebar or quick open (⌘ P), and then select / quick open another one, it reuses the preview tab, until it’s pinned (double-clicked, or the file is edited).

This behavior makes sense if you’re going through files in sidebar, possibly just peeking into files, but if you want to quick-open something, you probably know you want to have it open „for real“.

To achieve this, set the following:

"workbench.editor.enablePreviewFromQuickOpen": false

Now try to ⌘ P - your file will no longer open in preview mode.

Breadcrumbs

vscode breadcrumbs

Breadcrumbs (displayed underneath the title bar) is a useful feature of VSCode that shows your location in the codebase. If you click on one of the segments, it shows you your current location, and files / symbols on the same level, serving as a quick navigation as well.

Enable them with this setting:

"breadcrumbs.enabled": true

There are two useful shortcuts when it comes to breadcrumbs:

  • ⌘ ⇧ . - Focus Breadcrumbs: It will select that last element and open a dropdown that allows you to navigate to a sibling file or symbol.
  • ⌘ ⇧ ; - Focus last element of Breadcrumbs without opening it - so you can move inside the path hierarchy with arrows.

Quick tip: You can type inside the breadcrumb popup to filter files and folders / symbols, and focus on them with .

Hide Open Editors section

You see open files in tabs anyway.

  "explorer.openEditors.visible": 0

Customize the title bar

Default VSCode title is not very useful. It only shows current file name and project name. Here’s how you can improve it:

"window.title": "${dirty} ${activeEditorMedium}${separator}${rootName}"
  • ${dirty}: a dirty indicator if the active editor is dirty.
  • ${activeEditorMedium}: the path of the file relative to the workspace folder (e.g. myFolder/myFileFolder/myFile.txt)
  • ${separator}: a conditional separator (” - ”) that only shows when surrounded by variables with values or static text.
  • ${rootName}: name of the workspace (e.g. myFolder or myWorkspace).

You can see all available options here.

Minimap

You probably know the famous minimap widget from Sublime Text. It’s turned on by default, but looks quite awful:

minimap default

Lets’ improve it.

First, let’s use color blocks instead of minified characters. Then set the max horizontal columns, and finally, always show the “slider” so we can glance at the minimap to see where in the file is the screen located.

"editor.minimap.renderCharacters": false,
"editor.minimap.maxColumn": 200,
"editor.minimap.showSlider": "always"

minimap customized

Whitespace

You probably want to see all the characters:

"editor.renderWhitespace": "all"

Smooth scrolling

"editor.smoothScrolling": true

Caret improvements

There’s something oddly satisfying about the cursor that’s phasing instead of blinking:

"editor.cursorBlinking": "phase"

Also, the cursor is easier to follow, when there’s a slight animation on its movement:

"editor.cursorSmoothCaretAnimation": true

Final new line

It’s a common practice to include a new line at the end of your file:

"files.insertFinalNewline": true

Trim trailing whitespace

"files.trimTrailingWhitespace": true

Telemetry

I like to have telemetry disabled:

"telemetry.enableCrashReporter": false
"telemetry.enableTelemetry": false,

also, there’s Natural language search enabled by default, which sends your keystrokes to Bing when searching settings. In case you want to turn it off as well, add this to your settings:

"workbench.settings.enableNaturalLanguageSearch": false

Copy file path

When talking about code, it’s often useful to be able to point to a specific file. VSCode offers copying both absolute and relative file paths of active file through command palette ⌘ P, but it’s quicker to set your own keyboard shortcuts.

Open your keyboard shortcuts file with ⌘ K, ⌘ S (commad + K immediately followed by commad + S), and add the following (or any key combination you like)

copy relative path

{
	"key": "shift+cmd+c",
	"command": "copyRelativeFilePath"
}

copy absolute path

{
	"key": "shift+alt+cmd+c",
	"command": "copyFilePath"
}

Hide feedback smiley in the bottom bar

"workbench.statusBar.feedback.visible": false

Extensions

Rich extensions ecosystem is one of the reasons VSCode took off. Here are the ones that proved themselves useful:

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