Server side syntax highlighting with Crystal lang, NOIR and Lucky framework

I hate to rely on Javascript to highlight code. This is something that we can and should do on the backend IMHO: no point in overloading the browser for that. This blog is written in Crystal and Lucky Framework and I was using Prism.js to highlight my code as I didn't found a ready to be used solution at that time. It's not the case anymore: NOIR and some custom renderer for Github Flavored Mardown library cr-mark-gfm did the trick. Here is a little tutorial on how I did it.

Adding NOIR to your project

NOIR is a port of the famous Rouge, a pure Ruby syntax highlighter. NOIR is not as complete as Rouge but it works, and adding other languages should be pretty easy, just a matter of porting the corresponding lexer from Rouge.

First, you need to add NOIR to your project. Unfortunately, the latest commit on NOIR is 3 years old and, by default, the project is not compatible with Crystal 1.0.0 due to the lack of a crystal version number in its shard.yml. I made a fork here so that you can directly include it in your crystal 1.0.0 project:

    github: vjousse/noir

Writing a custom parser for cr-mark-gfm

Then, as I said above, I'm using cr-mark-gfm to convert my markdown content to HTML. To be able to highlight my code on the backend, I had to override the default Cmark::HTMLRenderer class and more especially the def code_block(node) method that is in charge of rendering the <code> blocks. The goal was to wire some code from NOIR here to highlight the content of the <code> block.

Here is the code I put on the top of my src/models/post.cr file.

require "noir"
require "noir/themes/monokai"
require "noir/lexers/crystal"
require "noir/lexers/css"
require "noir/lexers/html"
require "noir/lexers/javascript"
require "noir/lexers/json"
require "noir/lexers/python"
require "noir/lexers/ruby"

class PostHTMLRenderer < Cmark::HTMLRenderer

  def code_block(node)
    out %(<pre class="code")
    sourcepos node
    fence_info = node.fence_info

    if fence_info.bytesize.zero?
      out "><code>"
      out escape_html(node.literal),
      tags = fence_info.split(' ', remove_empty: true)
      language_name = tags[0]

      if @options.github_pre_lang?
        out %( lang="#{escape_html(tags.shift)})
        tags.each { |tag| out %(" data-meta="#{escape_html(tag)}) } if @options.full_info_string?
        out %("><code class="highlight">)
        out %(><code class="highlight language-#{escape_html(tags.shift)})
        tags.each { |tag| out %(" data-meta="#{escape_html(tag)}) } if @options.full_info_string?
        out %(">)

      theme = Noir.find_theme("monokai").not_nil!
      formatter_out : IO = IO::Memory.new

      if lexer = Noir.find_lexer(language_name)
        Noir.highlight node.literal,
          lexer: lexer,
          formatter: Noir::Formatters::HTML.new formatter_out
        out formatter_out.to_s
        Log.info { "Lexer for '#{language_name}' not found." }
        out escape_html(node.literal)

    out "</code></pre>\n"


What I did here is that I took the code from the cr-mark-gfm HTML renderer and added the one I found in the NOIR library. By default, I'm using the monokai theme from NOIR (there is also a solarized theme available).

Then I just have to convert my markdown to HTML as unusual. Here is the rest of my src/models/post.cr file:

class Post < BaseModel

  avram_enum Lang do
    Fr # 0
    En # 1

  table do
    column title : String
    column content : String
    column teaser : String?
    column slug : String
    column filename : String
    column published_at : Time
    column lang : Post::Lang
    column hash : String

  def md_to_html(md : String): String
      options = Cmark::Option.flags(ValidateUTF8, Smart, Unsafe, GithubPreLang)
      extensions = Cmark::Extension.flags(Table, Tasklist)

      nodes = Cmark.parse_gfm(md.gsub("<p></p>", ""), options)

      renderer = PostHTMLRenderer.new(options, extensions)

  def content_to_html : String

  def teaser_to_html : String
    if teaser = self.teaser


You can find the whole file directly on Github.

Add some nice CSS

Now that we have some HTML and classes that have been added to our output, we need to colorize them. Here is how the output looks like:

NOIR syntax highlighting

NOIR provides some CSS that you can copy paste to get this result. Follow the instructions on the NOIR's github README to compile the ET NOIR CLI tool and execute the following command to get the CSS for the monokai theme:

    ./bin/etnoir style monokai

This should output something like the image below.

NOIR css

Copy paste the content to your CSS file, and you're done. Here is a direct link to the CSS I use for this blog.


Crystal and NOIR provide a solid fundation to highlight code on the server side. Even if only 7 languages are available for now (crystal, css, html, javascript, json, python, ruby) it should be straightforward to port other languages using some examples from Rouge.

I really enjoy playing around with the Crystal libs out there. It looks like Crystal just need a little bit more ❤️ to be the new defacto "dynamic language with an useful compiler".

That's all for today folks. Don't hesitate to reach out to me if you have any question. Enjoy! 🎉