Better code highlighting in Hugo with Torchlight

During my latest redesign, I replaced Hugo's default code highlighting with Torchlight. In this post, I'll explain how I set up Torchlight CLI for my Hugo site. (Although this can be applied to any static site.)

Torchlight is a code-highlighter-as-a-service built on Visual Studio Code's editor highlighter editor. You throw blocks of code to Torchlight and they return them in a highlighted form. This results in a more complete highlight than alternatives like highlight.js, and a lot of available themes. Torchlight also supports less popular syntaxes like Laravel Blade.

In addition, Torchlight has a number of custom annotations. For example, you can collapse code by wrapping it between [tl! collapse:start] and [tl! collapse:end].

module.exports = { Click to expand…
// Your token from
token: process.env.TORCHLIGHT_TOKEN,

To set up Torchlight with Hugo, we'll need to follow a few steps:

  1. Register on and generate an API token
  2. Install Torchlight CLI
  3. Configure Torchlight
  4. Update our deploy script

Register on

You can create a free account on for personal and open source projects. When you have an account set up, generate a personal token to get started with the API.

Torchlight CLI

For a static site, Torchlight CLI is the most straightforward way to get going.

npm i -g @torchlight-api/torchlight-cli
npx torchlight

The CLI tool scans a folder for HTML files, looks for <pre><code> blocks, passes them through the API and overwrites the original HTML. That means our statis site generator doesn't need to know about Torchlight and vice-versa. Hugo generates HTML, then Torchlight transforms it.

Torchlight configuration

You'll also need a torchlight.config.js file to configure Torchlight and store your token.

Here's the config used by this site (less relevant parts are collapsed):

module.exports = {
// Your token from
token: process.env.TORCHLIGHT_TOKEN,
// The Torchlight client caches highlighted code blocks. Here you
// can define which directory you'd like to use. You'll likely
// want to add this directory to your .gitignore. Set to
// `false` to use an in-memory cache. You may also
// provide a full cache implementation.
cache: false,
// Which theme you want to use. You can find all of the themes at
theme: "fortnite",
// The Host of the API.
host: "",
// Global options to control block-level settings.
options: { Click to expand…
// Turn line numbers on or off globally.
lineNumbers: false,
// Control the `style` attribute applied to line numbers.
// lineNumbersStyle: '',
// Turn on +/- diff indicators.
diffIndicators: true,
// If there are any diff indicators for a line, put them
// in place of the line number to save horizontal space.
diffIndicatorsInPlaceOfLineNumbers: true,
// When lines are collapsed, this is the text that will
// be shown to indicate that they can be expanded.
summaryCollapsedIndicator: 'Click to expand…',
// Options for the highlight command.
highlight: {
// Directory where your un-highlighted source files live. If
// left blank, Torchlight will use the current directory.
input: "public",
// Directory where your highlighted files should be placed. If
// left blank, files will be modified in place.
output: "", Click to expand…
// Globs to include when looking for files to highlight.
includeGlobs: ["**/*.htm", "**/*.html"],
// String patterns to ignore (not globs). The entire file
// path will be searched and if any of these strings
// appear, the file will be ignored.
excludePatterns: ["/node_modules/", "/vendor/"],

Things that stand out:

  • token: We'll pass the token through an environment variable, more on that below
  • cache: We'll only run Torchlight when deploying, so no need for a cache
  • theme: My syntax highlighting theme of choice, there are many themes available
  • highlight.input: This is where Torchlight CLI will scan files, the public folder is where Hugo outputs the final HTML.
  • highlight.output: This is where Torchlight CLI will store the highlighted HTML files, it's empty so Torchlight will overwrite the input files.


This site is hosted on Netlify, netlify.toml has the following build command set up:

command = "hugo --minify"
publish = "public"

Since Torchlight needs to run after Hugo builds the site, we can chain a few additional commands.

command = """
hugo --minify
npm i -g @torchlight-api/torchlight-cli
npx torchlight
publish = "public"

After adding a TORCHLIGHT_TOKEN environment variable in Netlify's UI we're up and running With the Torchlight configuration we set up earlier, Torchlight will highlight all files in public before they get published by Netlify.

Local development

The biggest tradeoff with Torchlight is build speed. Hugo is fast (like, really fast), and adding a tool that relies on network requests is going to slow things down considerably.

I haven't configured Torchlight to run when watching for changes with hugo server because I value the instant build speed more when writing. Before I deploy, I'll often run the full build command locally to double check, but I don't really care about the highlighting while I'm in the middle of editing.

That's all you need to know to set up Torchlight with a static site. Thanks to Aaron Francis for making Torchlight free for personal use!