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Walkthrough: Highlighting Text


This article applies to Visual Studio 2015. If you're looking for the latest Visual Studio documentation, see Visual Studio documentation. We recommend upgrading to the latest version of Visual Studio. Download it here

You can add different visual effects to the editor by creating Managed Extensibility Framework (MEF) component parts. This walkthrough shows how to highlight every occurrence of the current word in a text file. If a word occurs more than one time in a text file, and you position the caret in one occurrence, every occurrence is highlighted.


Starting in Visual Studio 2015, you do not install the Visual Studio SDK from the download center. It is included as an optional feature in Visual Studio setup. You can also install the VS SDK later on. For more information, see Installing the Visual Studio SDK.

Creating a MEF Project

  1. Create a C# VSIX project. (In the New Project dialog, select Visual C# / Extensibility, then VSIX Project.) Name the solution HighlightWordTest.

  2. Add an Editor Classifier item template to the project. For more information, see Creating an Extension with an Editor Item Template.

  3. Delete the existing class files.

Defining a TextMarkerTag

The first step in highlighting text is to subclass TextMarkerTag and define its appearance.

To define a TextMarkerTag and a MarkerFormatDefinition

  1. Add a class file and name it HighlightWordTag.

  2. Add the following references:

    1. Microsoft.VisualStudio.CoreUtility

    2. Microsoft.VisualStudio.Text.Data

    3. Microsoft.VisualStudio.Text.Logic

    4. Microsoft.VisualStudio.Text.UI

    5. Microsoft.VisualStudio.Text.UI.Wpf

    6. System.ComponentModel.Composition

    7. Presentation.Core

    8. Presentation.Framework

  3. Import the following namespaces.

    using System;  
    using System.Collections.Generic;  
    using System.ComponentModel.Composition;  
    using System.Linq;  
    using System.Threading;  
    using Microsoft.VisualStudio.Text;  
    using Microsoft.VisualStudio.Text.Classification;  
    using Microsoft.VisualStudio.Text.Editor;  
    using Microsoft.VisualStudio.Text.Operations;  
    using Microsoft.VisualStudio.Text.Tagging;  
    using Microsoft.VisualStudio.Utilities;  
    using System.Windows.Media;  
  4. Create a class that inherits from TextMarkerTag and name it HighlightWordTag.

    internal class HighlightWordTag : TextMarkerTag  
  5. Create a second class that inherits from MarkerFormatDefinition, and name it HighlightWordFormatDefinition. In order to use this format definition for your tag, you must export it with the following attributes:

    internal class HighlightWordFormatDefinition : MarkerFormatDefinition  
  6. In the constructor for HighlightWordFormatDefinition, define its display name and appearance. The Background property defines the fill color, while the Foreground property defines the border color.

    public HighlightWordFormatDefinition()  
                this.BackgroundColor = Colors.LightBlue;  
        this.ForegroundColor = Colors.DarkBlue;  
        this.DisplayName = "Highlight Word";  
        this.ZOrder = 5;  
  7. In the constructor for HighlightWordTag, pass in the name of the format definition you just created.

    public HighlightWordTag() : base("MarkerFormatDefinition/HighlightWordFormatDefinition") { }  

Implementing an ITagger

The next step is to implement the ITagger<T> interface. This interface assigns, to a given text buffer, tags that provide text highlighting and other visual effects.

To implement a tagger

  1. Create a class that implements ITagger<T> of type HighlightWordTag, and name it HighlightWordTagger.

    internal class HighlightWordTagger : ITagger<HighlightWordTag>  
  2. Add the following private fields and properties to the class:

    ITextView View { get; set; }  
    ITextBuffer SourceBuffer { get; set; }  
    ITextSearchService TextSearchService { get; set; }  
    ITextStructureNavigator TextStructureNavigator { get; set; }  
    NormalizedSnapshotSpanCollection WordSpans { get; set; }  
    SnapshotSpan? CurrentWord { get; set; }  
    SnapshotPoint RequestedPoint { get; set; }  
    object updateLock = new object();  
  3. Add a constructor that initializes the properties listed earlier and adds LayoutChanged and PositionChanged event handlers.

    public HighlightWordTagger(ITextView view, ITextBuffer sourceBuffer, ITextSearchService textSearchService,  
    ITextStructureNavigator textStructureNavigator)  
        this.View = view;  
        this.SourceBuffer = sourceBuffer;  
        this.TextSearchService = textSearchService;  
        this.TextStructureNavigator = textStructureNavigator;  
        this.WordSpans = new NormalizedSnapshotSpanCollection();  
        this.CurrentWord = null;  
        this.View.Caret.PositionChanged += CaretPositionChanged;  
        this.View.LayoutChanged += ViewLayoutChanged;  
  4. The event handlers both call the UpdateAtCaretPosition method.

    void ViewLayoutChanged(object sender, TextViewLayoutChangedEventArgs e)  
        // If a new snapshot wasn't generated, then skip this layout   
        if (e.NewSnapshot != e.OldSnapshot)  
    void CaretPositionChanged(object sender, CaretPositionChangedEventArgs e)  
  5. You must also add a TagsChanged event that will be called by the update method.

    public event EventHandler<SnapshotSpanEventArgs> TagsChanged;
    Public Event TagsChanged(ByVal sender As Object, ByVal e As SnapshotSpanEventArgs) _
        Implements ITagger(Of HighlightWordTag).TagsChanged
  6. The UpdateAtCaretPosition() method finds every word in the text buffer that is identical to the word where the cursor is positioned and constructs a list of SnapshotSpan objects that correspond to the occurrences of the word. It then calls SynchronousUpdate, which raises the TagsChanged event.

    void UpdateAtCaretPosition(CaretPosition caretPosition)  
        SnapshotPoint? point = caretPosition.Point.GetPoint(SourceBuffer, caretPosition.Affinity);  
        if (!point.HasValue)  
        // If the new caret position is still within the current word (and on the same snapshot), we don't need to check it   
        if (CurrentWord.HasValue  
            && CurrentWord.Value.Snapshot == View.TextSnapshot  
            && point.Value >= CurrentWord.Value.Start  
            && point.Value <= CurrentWord.Value.End)  
        RequestedPoint = point.Value;  
    void UpdateWordAdornments()  
        SnapshotPoint currentRequest = RequestedPoint;  
        List<SnapshotSpan> wordSpans = new List<SnapshotSpan>();  
        //Find all words in the buffer like the one the caret is on  
        TextExtent word = TextStructureNavigator.GetExtentOfWord(currentRequest);  
        bool foundWord = true;  
        //If we've selected something not worth highlighting, we might have missed a "word" by a little bit  
        if (!WordExtentIsValid(currentRequest, word))  
            //Before we retry, make sure it is worthwhile   
            if (word.Span.Start != currentRequest  
                 || currentRequest == currentRequest.GetContainingLine().Start  
                 || char.IsWhiteSpace((currentRequest - 1).GetChar()))  
                foundWord = false;  
                // Try again, one character previous.    
                //If the caret is at the end of a word, pick up the word.  
                word = TextStructureNavigator.GetExtentOfWord(currentRequest - 1);  
                //If the word still isn't valid, we're done   
                if (!WordExtentIsValid(currentRequest, word))  
                    foundWord = false;  
        if (!foundWord)  
            //If we couldn't find a word, clear out the existing markers  
            SynchronousUpdate(currentRequest, new NormalizedSnapshotSpanCollection(), null);  
        SnapshotSpan currentWord = word.Span;  
        //If this is the current word, and the caret moved within a word, we're done.   
        if (CurrentWord.HasValue && currentWord == CurrentWord)  
        //Find the new spans  
        FindData findData = new FindData(currentWord.GetText(), currentWord.Snapshot);  
        findData.FindOptions = FindOptions.WholeWord | FindOptions.MatchCase;  
        //If another change hasn't happened, do a real update   
        if (currentRequest == RequestedPoint)  
            SynchronousUpdate(currentRequest, new NormalizedSnapshotSpanCollection(wordSpans), currentWord);  
    static bool WordExtentIsValid(SnapshotPoint currentRequest, TextExtent word)  
        return word.IsSignificant  
            && currentRequest.Snapshot.GetText(word.Span).Any(c => char.IsLetter(c));  
  7. The SynchronousUpdate performs a synchronous update on the WordSpans and CurrentWord properties, and raises the TagsChanged event.

    void SynchronousUpdate(SnapshotPoint currentRequest, NormalizedSnapshotSpanCollection newSpans, SnapshotSpan? newCurrentWord)  
        lock (updateLock)  
            if (currentRequest != RequestedPoint)  
            WordSpans = newSpans;  
            CurrentWord = newCurrentWord;  
            var tempEvent = TagsChanged;  
            if (tempEvent != null)  
                tempEvent(this, new SnapshotSpanEventArgs(new SnapshotSpan(SourceBuffer.CurrentSnapshot, 0, SourceBuffer.CurrentSnapshot.Length)));  
  8. You must implement the GetTags method. This method takes a collection of SnapshotSpan objects and returns an enumeration of tag spans.

    In C#, implement this method as a yield iterator, which enables lazy evaluation (that is, evaluation of the set only when individual items are accessed) of the tags. In Visual Basic, add the tags to a list and return the list.

    Here the method returns a TagSpan<T> object that has a "blue" TextMarkerTag, which provides a blue background.

    public IEnumerable<ITagSpan<HighlightWordTag>> GetTags(NormalizedSnapshotSpanCollection spans)  
        if (CurrentWord == null)  
            yield break;  
        // Hold on to a "snapshot" of the word spans and current word, so that we maintain the same  
        // collection throughout  
        SnapshotSpan currentWord = CurrentWord.Value;  
        NormalizedSnapshotSpanCollection wordSpans = WordSpans;  
        if (spans.Count == 0 || wordSpans.Count == 0)  
            yield break;  
        // If the requested snapshot isn't the same as the one our words are on, translate our spans to the expected snapshot   
        if (spans[0].Snapshot != wordSpans[0].Snapshot)  
            wordSpans = new NormalizedSnapshotSpanCollection(  
                wordSpans.Select(span => span.TranslateTo(spans[0].Snapshot, SpanTrackingMode.EdgeExclusive)));  
            currentWord = currentWord.TranslateTo(spans[0].Snapshot, SpanTrackingMode.EdgeExclusive);  
        // First, yield back the word the cursor is under (if it overlaps)   
        // Note that we'll yield back the same word again in the wordspans collection;   
        // the duplication here is expected.   
        if (spans.OverlapsWith(new NormalizedSnapshotSpanCollection(currentWord)))  
            yield return new TagSpan<HighlightWordTag>(currentWord, new HighlightWordTag());  
        // Second, yield all the other words in the file   
        foreach (SnapshotSpan span in NormalizedSnapshotSpanCollection.Overlap(spans, wordSpans))  
            yield return new TagSpan<HighlightWordTag>(span, new HighlightWordTag());  

Creating a Tagger Provider

To create your tagger, you must implement a IViewTaggerProvider. This class is a MEF component part, so you must set the correct attributes so that this extension is recognized.


For more information about MEF, see Managed Extensibility Framework (MEF).

To create a tagger provider

  1. Create a class named HighlightWordTaggerProvider that implements IViewTaggerProvider, and export it with a ContentTypeAttribute of "text" and a TagTypeAttribute of TextMarkerTag.

    internal class HighlightWordTaggerProvider : IViewTaggerProvider  
    { }  
  2. You must import two editor services, the ITextSearchService and the ITextStructureNavigatorSelectorService, to instantiate the tagger.

    internal ITextSearchService TextSearchService { get; set; }  
    internal ITextStructureNavigatorSelectorService TextStructureNavigatorSelector { get; set; }  
  3. Implement the CreateTagger method to return an instance of HighlightWordTagger.

    public ITagger<T> CreateTagger<T>(ITextView textView, ITextBuffer buffer) where T : ITag  
        //provide highlighting only on the top buffer   
        if (textView.TextBuffer != buffer)  
            return null;  
        ITextStructureNavigator textStructureNavigator =  
        return new HighlightWordTagger(textView, buffer, TextSearchService, textStructureNavigator) as ITagger<T>;  

Building and Testing the Code

To test this code, build the HighlightWordTest solution and run it in the experimental instance.

To build and test the HighlightWordTest solution

  1. Build the solution.

  2. When you run this project in the debugger, a second instance of Visual Studio is instantiated.

  3. Create a text file and type some text in which the words are repeated, for example, "hello hello hello".

  4. Position the cursor in one of the occurrences of "hello". Every occurrence should be highlighted in blue.

See Also

Walkthrough: Linking a Content Type to a File Name Extension