Mac Programming

Visual Studio Code Is the Perfect Text and Scripting Editor for Mac

Michael McConnell 22-06-2017

Xcode is the go-to Mac development environment, but it can be a bit much for a beginner. If you’re curious and just want to play around, Microsoft Visual Studio Code 10 Essential Productivity Tips for Visual Studio Code Visual Studio Code blows other programming text editors out of the water. It's free, open source, lightning fast, and packed with productivity features. Read More  might be the better choice.


It’s no longer weird to see Microsoft in the Mac section since the company ramped up its Mac and iOS support a few years ago. Visual Studio Code is another promising product from Apple’s rival Microsoft Loves Apple – These Mac and iOS Apps Prove it Stuffy, boring, insular. These are three adjectives that have been used to describe the Microsoft of yesteryear. But that Microsoft is gone. They've changed. Radically. Read More .

It has support for myriad languages, and you don’t even need to compare it to Xcode since they serve different needs.

Who Is It For?

If you are looking for an extensible text editor The Best HTML Text Editors for Your Mac Need a new text editor for your Mac? We look at the best free and paid HTML text editors for macOS. Read More , Visual Studio is a real competitor to Sublime and Atom. Like most of Microsoft’s recent macOS efforts, it feels surprisingly at home on Apple’s platform.

It has a darker theme, and doesn’t look like a hastily dashed-off port of the Windows version. Code is great for simple automation scripts, but plugin support is where it really shines.

text editors compared


With community-developed plugins, Visual Studio Code can be a Swiss Army text editor. One plugin allows you to write and run shell scripts in the editor, as well as a host of other languages. Another has support for Markdown. There’s even a plugin to write and run Applescript.

If you are a sysadmin that has to work with Windows systems, you can also use Code to write Powershell on the Mac. Developers can find plugins to support almost any language you like.

The inclusion of native Git version control means you can easily do all your work from a single editor.

Getting Started

When Microsoft ported Visual Studio Community to the Mac, it was a bit of a mess. The design focused on the idea of cross-platform mobile development. This included some packages from Xarmin to enable multi-platform mobile apps using C#.


Code gives you a simple stand alone program without any cruft. Simply head over to the Visual Studio Code site and it should auto-detect that you are on a Mac.

download visual studio code mac

Download the package and unzip it. Once you have copied the app to the Applications folder, you are ready to go. When you first open the app, you’ll see a web page with a rundown of the basics of working with the app. This includes some of the most popular plugins that you can install.

If you scroll down, you’ll find a list of handy keyboard shortcuts too. You can press Shift + Command + P to get a full list of available commands. If you prefer Vim or Emacs shortcuts, there are plugins to use these instead.


Plugins for Everything

The Visual Studio page has a free marketplace for plugins that you can explore. You can also search and install them right in the app, which makes it easier to get working right away. To open the plugins marketplace click on the bottom icon in the toolbar on the left.

By default, it opens with a list of the most popular extensions:

applescript plugin visual studio code mac

In our example above, we are going to install the AppleScript plugin. This has support for writing and running Applescript. This allows you to get some experience with a language that’s native to your Mac.


In the plugin menu, enter Applescript, it should be the first result. Select it, click Install, then wait for the Reload button to pop up. Click it to reload Code, and the plugin is ready to go.

Testing Plugins by Running Code

We are going to write a simple script and ask to use the editor to Run it. First, open iTunes, then switch back to Code. Enter the following script:

tell application "iTunes"
end tell

Save your script as Quit-iTunes.applescript and you should see the correct syntax highlighting. To run your script, press Shift + Option + R — you should see iTunes quit. This confirms you can use Visual Studio Code to write and run Applescript.

Of course, there’s already a built-in OS editor for that How to Use Applescript's UI Scripting on Mac Read More . However, you can also install the Code Runner utility, to run shell scripts as well. Now Code can be a central place to work with your scripts.

Advanced Features

For coders, there is built in Git What Is Git & Why You Should Use Version Control If You’re a Developer As web developers, a lot of the time we tend to work on local development sites then just upload everything when we’re done. This is fine when it’s just you and the changes are small,... Read More and debugging. You can access everything from the toolbar on the left. If you are working with the Terminal, you can access it right from the app. When you click on the debug icon (the bug with a line through it), you can then click the little terminal and work on the command line.

debug visual studio code mac

Git support operates on the folders that you open, but it can make it easy for you to make changes and commit them all in the same window. If you just want a directory to pin to the side (as with Text Wrangler), there doesn’t seem to be a way to do that. This is a small gripe but might prevent some people from switching.

There’s also a Zen mode that strips away all the chrome. This creates a distraction-free editor.

Transform Code Into Something Else

You can just use Code as a scripting editor if you want, but there are many different things you can do with Code. You can simply copy a command into Code and each plugin will be installed, which we’ve included below.

visual studio code command window

Markdown Editor

If you are looking for a text editor focused on writing Markdown What Is Markdown? 4 Reasons Why You Should Learn It Now Tired of HTML and WYSIWYG editors? Then Markdown is the answer for you no matter who you are. Read More , you can use the following plugin combo:

Markdown All In One — This plugin gives you keyboard shortcuts and support for table of contents and lists in Markdown. You can also open a second pane that previews your text as your type it. The command to install is: ext install markdown-all-in-one

Markdown Converter — If you are writing Markdown to convert to another format, this plugin lets you choose a variety of formats. It supports HTML, PDF, and even image files. The command to install is: ext install markdown-converter

Web Development

If you want to set up Code for web development, here is a suggested combo:

HTML5 Snippets — This plugin allows for HTML highlighting along with snippets and autocomplete. The command to install is: ext install html-snippets

Javascript (ES6) Code Snippets — This plugin has snippets for a few different flavors of Javascript that use the ES6 syntax. The command to install is: ext install JavaScriptSnippets

Intellisense for CSS class names — This is a helpful tool for setting up autocomplete on the defined classes for your CSS sheets. The command to install is: ext install html-css-class-completion

Why Choose Code?

Code is not the first editor to have a wide array of plugins, Making The Best Text Editor Better: 7 Great Sublime Text Packages Read More  but it does feature some of the best plugin support in the business. Code has a diversity of options to help guide from beginner to expert. It can just as easily be a handy text editor with more options than TextEdit.

Are you just getting started with scripting on the Mac What Is AppleScript? Writing Your First Mac Automation Script AppleScript can help you automate repetitive tasks on your Mac. Here's an overview and how to write your first AppleScript script. Read More ? If you are passionate about other text editors, let us know why your choice is the best!

Image Credits: Galushko Sergey/Shutterstock

Related topics: Applescript, Programming, Text Editor, Visual Studio Code.

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  1. Jonas Smithson
    April 26, 2019 at 7:41 pm

    I was considering using VSC as an IDE on my Mac... but a lot of people online seem to think it's almost spyware, that MS has telemetry going that doesn't stop even if you "disable" it in their config options. They claim that their firewalls (I assume application-level firewalls, like Little Snitch or Hands Off? not sure) keep flagging VSC attempts to phone home.

    Others say that's just VSC checking for updates. Maybe. But I don't really trust MS. On the other hand, it might be a nice free IDE for JS, maybe even for PHP?

    Thoughts on the privacy/security issues?