Better Syntax Highlighting

I’ve been using Prism to highlight syntax on my blog. I achieved this with a custom plugin for Marked. This was kinda janky for my server-side build process. Prism is old. Prism v2 doesn’t seem to be happening. You’ve served me well, Prism, but it’s time to go.

I tried Highlight.js writing documentation for It’s better, but it’s not the amazing syntax highlighter I’m after. I want something truely modern.

Something Modern

I discovered Shiki once before but February this year saw the v1.0.0 release with major improvements. Shiki uses the same engine that powers VS Code. I think it might be exactly what I’m looking for. It only took an hour to retrofit Shiki into my website.


  • Easy to use ES module exports
  • Actively maintained and improved
  • More variation in syntax tokens and themes
  • Documentation


  • Slower startup due to WASM
  • Inline styles; no classes
  • Documentation

Slower I can live with. It takes under two seconds to parse all the code blocks in my 400+ articles. With Prism that was under 500ms (but it did less).

Inline styles I can’t live with.

Superb effort on the docs but they’re missing a basic API overview; what does the module export? I find that so useful without the marketing fluff and slow hand-holding intros.

Wrestling Styles

My website uses content security headers. Every inline style element or attribute requires a cryptographic hash. It’s not practical to generate CSP hashes for every attribute. I could use the unsafe-inline header but that defeats the purpose.

My static site is hosted on Cloudflare Pages which is limited to 100 headers. Even with a server-side framework, generating a unique header per blog post would be a pain with tens or potentially hundreds of hashes.


My solution is to strip out inline styles after the syntax highlighter has done its job. I generate a class for each unique style starting at syntax-0. I then replace the style attribute with the class attribute.

Something like this:

const cssMap = new Map();
const styleAttr = /style=(["'])(.*?)\1/g;

const stripStyles = (code) => {
  return code.replace(styleAttr, (...args) => {
    if (!cssMap.has(args[2])) {
      cssMap.set(args[2], `syntax-${cssMap.size}`);
    return `class="${cssMap.get(args[2])}"`;

This CSS map is maintained across all pages as their markdown is rendered. The end result for my blog is 18 unique classes. From that I generate a single stylesheet and CSP hash I can add to every page. It’s only 675 bytes of extra CSS.

let css = [...cssMap.entries()]
  .map(([k, v]) => `.${v}{${k};}`)
css = `@layer syntax{${css}}`;

I’ve effectively generated a theme stylesheet like the other syntax highlighters use. Below is an example output I’ve formatted with whitespace:

@layer syntax {
  .syntax-1 {
    color: #ff79c6;
  .syntax-2 {
  /* 3 through 17 skipped... */
  .syntax-18 {
    color: #ffb86c;

On top of this I’ve added additional styles for:

  • Line numbers
  • Alternating line backgrounds
  • Visible whitespace characters
  • A tiny language tag

I’m only adding line numbers for 3+ lines of code. Using the :has() pseudo-class makes it super easy to do “quantity queries”.

pre:has(:nth-child(3 of .line)) {
  /* Add line numbers with CSS counter */

Shiki is not perfect. Did you spot the highlighting mistake in the code above? Same issue appears in VS Code too because they use the same engine. I’ve noticed a lot of modern CSS syntax gets messed up, especially when nesting is involved.

Maybe if you’re reading this from the future the bug was fixed. Sorry (not sorry). Here’s a screenshot with a red squiggly:

code with syntax highlighting error underlined

Anyway, I think this is still a major improvement to my blog.

Maintaining accessible colour contrast is difficult with syntax highlighters. Most themes fail WCAG guidelines. I’m using “Dracula” as a base. I modified a few colours to bump contrast above the 4.5:1 ratio. Red still fails but I think it’s only used for a few rare symbols.

const code = await shiki.codeToHtml(token.text, {
  lang: token.lang,
  theme: 'dracula',
  colorReplacements: {
    '#6272a4': '#a3b5eb', // Grey
    '#ff79c6': '#ff93ce', // Pink
    '#bd93f9': '#caa7ff', // Purple

What do you think? Direct opinions to Mastodon!

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