How to add PrismJS syntax highlighting to HTML emails

Last updated: May 30, 2022

If you want to show a block of code in an HTML email and have it look nice, it usually involves a lot of manual work: escaping, formatting, tokenizing, styling tokens...

With Maizzle however, we can use JavaScript libraries to do that work for us 💅

Getting started

Let's create a new Maizzle project.

Open a terminal window and clone the Starter:

npx degit maizzle/maizzle example-syntax-highlight

Install dependencies:

cd example-syntax-highlight

npm install

Once it finishes installing dependencies open it in your editor.

We'll be covering two different techniques:

  • with PostHTML
  • with Markdown

For both techniques we'll be using the PrismJS library to highlight code blocks.

PostHTML

Using a PostHTML plugin, we can write our own <pre><code> markup and have the plugin highlight the contents of the <code> element.

Install plugin

First, let's install the posthtml-prism plugin, which we'll use to highlight code blocks:

npm i posthtml-prism

Next, add it to the plugins list in your config.js:

config.js
module.exports = {
  build: {
    posthtml: {
      plugins: [
        require('posthtml-prism')()
      ]
    }
  }
}

Add code block

Add a block of code in your template, like so:

src/templates/example.html
<pre>
  <code class="language-javascript">
  function foo(bar) {
    var a = 42,
      b = 'Prism';
    return a + bar(b);
  }
  </code>
</pre>

Build

Run npm run dev to start the development server, open http://localhost:3000/ in a browser, and navigate to the template.

You'll see something like this:

function foo(bar) {
  var a = 42,
    b = 'Prism';
  return a + bar(b);
}

If you view the source of the page, you'll notice a lot of <span> tags. This means it worked, and PrismJS has tokenized our code block.

But it's not very pretty, is it? We need a theme!

Theming

Choose one of the default themes, or see prism-themes for more.

For this tutorial, we'll go with a Tailwind adaptation the Synthwave '84 Theme.

Save prism-synthwave84.css to the src/css directory in your project, and import it into your src/css/tailwind.css:

/* Tailwind CSS components */
@import "tailwindcss/components";

/**
 * @import here any custom CSS components - that is, CSS that
 * you'd want loaded before the Tailwind utilities, so the
 * utilities can still override them.
*/
@import "custom/prism-synthwave84";

/* Tailwind CSS utility classes */
@import "tailwindcss/utilities";

/* Your custom utility classes */
@import "utilities";

Now, running npm run build will yield the result we expected:

function foo(bar) {
  var a = 42,
    b = 'Prism';
  return a + bar(b);
}

Markdown

Alternatively, we can also use Markdown to write fenced code blocks and have PrismJS automatically syntax-highlight them.

Install PrismJS

First, we must install the PrismJS library:

npm i prismjs

Configure Markdown

Next, we need to configure Maizzle to use PrismJS as a custom highlight function for the Markdown renderer.

We do that in config.js:

config.js
const Prism = require('prismjs')

module.exports = {
  markdown: {
    markdownit: {
      highlight(code, lang) {
        lang = lang || 'markup'
        return Prism.highlight(code, Prism.languages[lang], lang)
      }
    }
  }
}

Fenced code block

We can now write code inside a fenced code block in our Template:

src/templates/example.html
<extends src="src/layouts/main.html">
  <block name="template">
    <md>
      ```js
      function foo(bar) {
        var a = 42,
          b = 'Prism';
        return a + bar(b);
      }
      ```
    </md>
  </block>
</extends>

Compatibility

Some email clients require extra steps in order to render our code blocks properly.

Gmail

Gmail will change our inline white-space: pre; to white-space: pre-wrap;. This results in code wrapping, instead of showing a horizontal scrollbar.

Fix it by adding the following CSS at the beginning of prism-synthwave84.css:

src/css/prism-synthwave84.css
pre {
  @apply whitespace-pre;
}

Outlook

Padding on <pre> doesn't work in Outlook.

We can fix this by wrapping <pre> inside a table that we only show in Outlook. We then style this table inline, like so:

src/templates/example.html
<!--[if mso]>
<table style="width:100%;">
  <tr>
    <td style="background: #2a2139; padding: 24px;">
<![endif]-->
<pre>
  <code class="language-javascript">
  function foo(bar) {
    var a = 42,
      b = 'Prism';
    return a + bar(b);
  }
  </code>
</pre>
<!--[if mso]></td></tr></table><![endif]-->

Production build

We've been developing locally so far, configuring PostHTML or Markdown in config.js. This means CSS isn't inlined, and most email optimizations are off.

When you're satisfied with the dev preview, run npm run build and use the template inside the build_production/ directory for sending the email.

Resources


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