Add beautiful code syntax highlighting to your Ruby on Rails app

Ruby on Rails / Development

The code syntax highlighting feature is a must-have for every developer blog or website where a code snippet can be presented. It’s easy to add it when you are using a blog engine like Jekyll or WordPress but you can also easily add it to your own Rails app.

Our goal

We want to have a nice-looking code syntax highlighting but we want also to be able to store the code safely in the database and be able to edit it easily. So here is the full list of our requirements:

  • Highlight code
  • Easily change highlight theme
  • Store safely submitted code
  • Edit easily code
  • Support highlighting for many languages

The easiest way to safely store code in the database is to use markdown syntax. Such syntax allows us for easy editing and modifying the logic.


In order to support markdown syntax, we will need a gem called Redcarpet. It’s really simple to use. To demonstrate it, let’s consider following example:"This is *bongos*, indeed.")

the output will be following:

<p>This is <em>bongos</em>, indeed.</p>

We have to add it to our Gemfile:

gem 'redcarpet'

and then run bundle install. From now on, you can write your articles using the markdown syntax and then display it in the view using this code:

<%=, fenced_code_blocks: true).render(@article.content).html_safe %>

Syntax higlighting

Now, when we added the markdown syntax support, we can focus on the syntax highlighting. We will use the Rouge gem which works perfectly with the Redcarpet gem that we have used for the markdown syntax. Let’s just add it to the Gemfile and hit bundle install:

gem 'rouge'

As you may notice, we used Redcarpet::Render::HTML renderer class for the markdown syntax parsing. In order to connect the Rouge with the Redcarpet we have to create our own renderer class. Create a new file called /lib/blog_render.rb and use following code:

require 'redcarpet'
require 'rouge'
require 'rouge/plugins/redcarpet'
# Custom renderer for Markdown syntax
class BlogRender < Redcarpet::Render::HTML
  include Rouge::Plugins::Redcarpet

The next thing we need to do is to pass new renderer class to the new instance of Redcarpet::Markdown:

<%=, fenced_code_blocks: true).render(@article.content).html_safe %>

The fenced_code_blocks option allows us to use code blocks you may know from Github. The last step is to update CSS styles. You can copy and paste styles from my gist to have the same theme as on my blog.