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This help page aims to cover two aspects of micro's syntax highlighting engine:

  • How to create colorschemes and use them
  • How to create syntax files to add to the list of languages micro can highlight


To change your colorscheme, press Ctrl-E in micro to bring up the command prompt, and type:

set colorscheme solarized

(or whichever colorscheme you choose).

Micro comes with a number of colorschemes by default. Here is the list:

256 color

These should work and look nice in most terminals. I recommend these themes the most.

  • monokai: this is the monokai colorscheme; you may recognize it as Sublime Text's default colorscheme. It requires true color to look perfect, but the 256 color approximation looks very good as well. It's also the default colorscheme.
  • zenburn
  • gruvbox
  • darcula
  • twilight
  • railscast
  • bubblegum: a light colorscheme

16 color

These may vary widely based on the 16 colors selected for your terminal.

  • simple: this is the simplest colorscheme. It uses 16 colors which are set by your terminal
  • solarized: You should have the solarized color palette in your terminal to use this colorscheme properly.
  • cmc-16
  • cmc-paper: cmc-16, but on a white background. (Actually light grey on most ANSI (16-color) terminals)
  • geany: Colorscheme based on geany's default highlighting.

True color

These require terminals that support true color and require MICRO_TRUECOLOR=1 (this is an environment variable).

  • solarized-tc: this is the solarized colorscheme for true color.
  • atom-dark-tc: this colorscheme is based off of Atom's "dark" colorscheme.
  • cmc-tc: A true colour variant of the cmc theme. It requires true color to look its best. Use cmc-16 if your terminal doesn't support true color.
  • gruvbox-tc: The true color version of the gruvbox colorscheme
  • github-tc: The true color version of the Github colorscheme


You can also use monochrome if you'd prefer to have just the terminal's default foreground and background colors. Note: This provides no syntax highlighting!


See help gimmickcolors for a list of some true colour themes that are more just for fun than for serious use. (Though feel free if you want!)

Creating a Colorscheme

Micro's colorschemes are also extremely simple to create. The default ones can be found here.

They are only about 18-30 lines in total.

Basically to create the colorscheme you need to link highlight groups with actual colors. This is done using the color-link command.

For example, to highlight all comments in green, you would use the command:

color-link comment "green"

Background colors can also be specified with a comma:

color-link comment "green,blue"

This will give the comments a blue background.

If you would like no foreground you can just use a comma with nothing in front:

color-link comment ",blue"

You can also put bold, or underline in front of the color:

color-link comment "bold red"

There are three different ways to specify the color.

Color terminals usually have 16 colors that are preset by the user. This means that you cannot depend on those colors always being the same. You can use those colors with the names black, red, green, yellow, blue, magenta, cyan, white and the bright variants of each one (brightblack, brightred...).

Then you can use the terminals 256 colors by using their numbers 1-256 (numbers 1-16 will refer to the named colors).

If the user's terminal supports true color, then you can also specify colors exactly using their hex codes. If the terminal is not true color but micro is told to use a true color colorscheme it will attempt to map the colors to the available 256 colors.

Generally colorschemes which require true color terminals to look good are marked with a -tc suffix and colorschemes which supply a white background are marked with a -paper suffix.

Here is a list of the colorscheme groups that you can use:

  • default (color of the background and foreground for unhighlighted text)
  • comment
  • identifier
  • constant
  • statement
  • symbol
  • preproc
  • type
  • special
  • underlined
  • error
  • todo
  • statusline (Color of the statusline)
  • tabbar (Color of the tabbar that lists open files)
  • indent-char (Color of the character which indicates tabs if the option is enabled)
  • line-number
  • gutter-error
  • gutter-warning
  • cursor-line
  • current-line-number
  • color-column
  • ignore
  • divider (Color of the divider between vertical splits)

Colorschemes must be placed in the ~/.config/micro/colorschemes directory to be used.

In addition to the main colorscheme groups, there are subgroups that you can specify by adding .subgroup to the group. If you're creating your own custom syntax files, you can make use of your own subgroups.

If micro can't match the subgroup, it'll default to the root group, so it's safe and recommended to use subgroups in your custom syntax files.

For example if constant.string is found in your colorscheme, micro will us that for highlighting strings. If it's not found, it will use constant instead. Micro tries to match the largest set of groups it can find in the colorscheme definitions, so if, for examle constant.bool.true is found then micro will use that. If constant.bool.true is not found but constant.bool is found micro will use constant.bool. If not, it uses constant.

Here's a list of subgroups used in micro's built-in syntax files.

  • comment.bright (Some filetypes have distinctions between types of comments)
  • constant.bool
  • constant.bool.true
  • constant.bool.false
  • constant.number
  • constant.specialChar
  • constant.string
  • constant.string.url
  • identifier.class (Also used for functions)
  • identifier.macro
  • identifier.var
  • preproc.shebang (The #! at the beginning of a file that tells the os what script interpreter to use)
  • symbol.brackets ({}()[] and sometimes <>)
  • symbol.operator (Color operator symbols differently)
  • symbol.tag (For html tags, among other things)
  • type.keyword (If you want a special highlight for keywords like private)

In the future, plugins may also be able to use color groups for styling.

Syntax files

The syntax files is written in yaml-format and specify how to highlight languages.

Micro's builtin syntax highlighting tries very hard to be sane, sensible and provide ample coverage of the meaningful elements of a language. Micro has syntax files built in for over 100 languages now! However, there may be situations where you find Micro's highlighting to be insufficient or not to your liking. The good news is that you can create your own syntax files, and place them in ~/.config/micro/syntax and Micro will use those instead.

Filetype definition

You must start the syntax file by declaring the filetype:

filetype: go

Detect definition

Then you must provide information about how to detect the filetype:

    filename: "\\.go$"

Micro will match this regex against a given filename to detect the filetype. You may also provide an optional header regex that will check the first line of the file. For example:

    filename: "\\.ya?ml$"
    header: "%YAML"

Syntax rules

Next you must provide the syntax highlighting rules. There are two types of rules: patterns and regions. A pattern is matched on a single line and usually a single word as well. A region highlights between two patterns over multiple lines and may have rules of its own inside the region.

Here are some example patterns in Go:

    - special: "\\b(break|case|continue|default|go|goto|range|return)\\b"
    - statement: "\\b(else|for|if|switch)\\b"
    - preproc: "\\b(package|import|const|var|type|struct|func|go|defer|iota)\\b"

The order of patterns does matter as patterns lower in the file will overwrite the ones defined above them.

And here are some example regions for Go:

- constant.string:
    start: "\""
    end: "\""
        - constant.specialChar: "%."
        - constant.specialChar: "\\\\[abfnrtv'\\\"\\\\]"
        - constant.specialChar: "\\\\([0-7]{3}|x[A-Fa-f0-9]{2}|u[A-Fa-f0-9]{4}|U[A-Fa-f0-9]{8})"

- comment:
    start: "//"
    end: "$"
        - todo: "(TODO|XXX|FIXME):?"

- comment:
    start: "/\\*"
    end: "\\*/"
        - todo: "(TODO|XXX|FIXME):?"

Notice how the regions may contain rules inside of them. Any inner rules that are matched are then skipped when searching for the end of the region. For example, when highlighting "foo \" bar", since \" is matched by an inner rule in the region, it is skipped. Likewise for "foo \\" bar, since \\ is matched by an inner rule, it is skipped, and then the " is found and the string ends at the correct place.

You may also explicitly mark skip regexes if you don't want them to be highlighted. For example:

- constant.string:
    start: "\""
    end: "\""
    skip: "\\."
    rules: []


You may also include rules from other syntax files as embedded languages. For example, the following is possible for html:

- default:
    start: "<script.*?>"
    end: "</script.*?>"
        - include: "javascript"

- default:
    start: "<style.*?>"
    end: "</style.*?>"
        - include: "css"
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