syntax highlighting is meant to make it easier to read and manage code. its not intended as training wheels, but a tool for professionals and students alike.
i find it draws attention away– if only a small amount of it– from what im trying to do. there are also at least two problems with syntax highlighting, regarding the colours chosen: first, that the parts of syntax that need the brightest or most vibrant colours (that draw the most attention) follow the same logic for everyone. just for a random example, in the picture above the items in red– a colour used for “stop” and “warning” because it gets the most attention– are the tag names, and the equals sign. a more useful scheme to me would be if = was one colour, and == was a different colour (to make assignment vs comparison easier to spot.)
its different for every person. i dont need the tag names in red– theyre already marked with a chevron to the left. thats what im looking for to find tag names. yes, red certainly makes it easier to find the tags (or equals signs) but the whole time im coding, those tags now try to pull me away from the rest of the code. its not worth the tradeoff.
the other problem with colours chosen is that at any given time, what im really looking for in code is a specific group of things, and it changes based on context. so while im looking for whatever it is that im looking for, (it might not even be syntax) ive got all this colourful noise in the text im searching through. now picture a needle in a haystack: do you want to look for that silver needle in a bale of ordinary blonde hay, or would it be easier if the hay were eight or nine different colours?
i find highlighting very useful for search results– especially multiple results displayed at once:
but i only use the search feature if a quick look over the page doesnt suffice, and syntax highlighting only gets the way.
im inclined to think that syntax highlighting is something a lot of people just “put up with” because its there, and its “too much bother” to turn off. (most people hate configuring anything in general, unless they need to and they cant.) and im sure its useful at least for most of the people that make it a feature in the editors theyre writing. it would be funny if that werent the case– if everyone thought that everyone else preferred highlighting, so developers that didnt want or need it assumed they had to add it for the users, while users assumed there was benefit (because why else have the feature?)
its even possible that syntax highlighting is a fad, but im sure a lot of people either love it, or think they do. i gravitate towards editors that dont have it, and i will turn it off if i have to.
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