Emmet Editor Plugin for Dynamic HTML/CSS Snippets

Emmet Editor Plugin for Dynamic HTML/CSS Snippets

By Mark Volkmann, OCI Partner and Principal Software Engineer

March 2018


Emmet is an editor plugin for quickly entering HTML, XML, and CSS. It also supports many "actions" that operate on HTML and XML elements. The most commonly used action is to expand an abbreviation or snippet.

Emmet was created by Sergey Chikuyonok. The original name was "Zen Coding."

Emmet is available for many editors including Atom, Eclipse, Emacs, Notepad++, Sublime, Vim, Visual Studio (VS) Code, and WebStorm. However, some implementations do not support all the defined snippets and actions.

Emmet is not just a simple snippet manager. It parses entered text to extract meaning. These kinds of snippets are referred to as "dynamic snippets."

We will see many examples later, but here's one. The snippet div#some-id.class1.class2[attr1=one attr2=2]{some content} expands to <div id="some-id" class="class1 class2" attr1="one" attr2="2">some content</div>. Amazing!

Simpler snippets are also very useful. For example, the CSS snippet mb10 expands to margin-bottom: 10px;.

The main web site for Emmet is https://emmet.io/, and you'll find a handy cheat sheet at https://docs.emmet.io/cheat-sheet/.

Getting Started

You will need to configure Emmet within your editor/IDE of choice. Instructions for specific ones can be found at https://emmet.io/download/. Click the box for your editor to see the details.

Rather than walk through the steps for every editor, this article covers just two. Currently VS Code seems to be the most popular editor, so that is covered. I use Vim, so that is also covered.

Instructions for other popular editors can be found at the following sites:

VS Code

Details on configuring Emmet for VS Code can be found at https://code.visualstudio.com/docs/editor/emmet. VS Code includes Emmet by default, enabled for these file types: css, haml, html, jade, jsx, less, sass, scss, slim, stylus, xml, and xsl. More file types can be added.

Configuring Emmet in VS Code

  1. Open Preferences ... Settings from the "File" menu in Windows and Linux, or the "Code" menu in macOS.
  2. Enter "Emmet" in the "Search Settings" input at the top.
  3. Note the available settings and their defaults on the left.
  4. Change settings in "USER SETTINGS" on the right.
  5. To enable use in React components in .js files, change the "emmet.includeLanguages" object to include javascript: 'javascriptreact'.

Using Emmet in VS Code

Suggestions are displayed as snippets as typed, along with non-Emmet suggestions.

To use the top suggestion before the snippet is fully entered, press enter or tab. To use a different suggestion, use to the up and down arrows keys to navigate to it and press enter or tab.

The expansion for the highlighted Emmet suggestion is displayed in a "documentation fly-out" to the right of the suggestion, so you know what will be inserted before you select it.

Using Emmet in VS Code

Some expansions contain insertion points, which are locations where additional text can be entered. The cursor will automatically be moved to an insertion point.

For example, when div is expanded, the cursor is moved to the | in <div>|</div>.

For snippets with multiple insertion points, after entering a value in one, you can press tab to jump to the next one.

Vim Emulation in VS Code

In case you are interested in enabling Vim emulation in VS Code, here are the steps.

  1. Select View ... Extensions.
  2. Enter "vscodevim" in the search input.
  3. Press the "Install" button for the vscodevim extension.

To configure Vim emulation

  1. Select Code ... Preferences ... Settings.
  2. Enter "vim" in the "Search Settings" input at the top.
  3. See the available settings and their defaults on the left.
  4. Change settings in "USER SETTINGS" on the right.


The Emmet plugin for Vim is available at https://github.com/mattn/emmet-vim. Instructions for installing it using a variety of Vim plugin managers can be found there, as well as configuration details.

Configuration is accomplished by modifying your .vimrc file.

All keyboard shortcuts for Emmet commands begin with <emmet-leader>. By default this is ctrl-y.

The most commonly used keyboard shortcut expands a snippet. The key sequence that triggers this is <emmet-leader> followed by a comma.

To change the value of <emmet-leader>, set the variable g:user_emmet_leader_key.

For example, to change it to the space key, add the following:

let g:user_emmet_leader_key='<space>'

Once these changes are made, Emmet expansions can be triggered by entering a snippet and pressing space followed by a comma while still in insert mode.

For snippets with more than one insertion point press <emmet-leader>n to move to next one and <emmet-leader>N to move to previous one. By default Emmet snippets can be expanded in all file types. To restrict usage to specific file types, add the following.

let g:user_emmet_install_global = 0 " don't enable for all file types
autocmd FileType html,css,scss EmmetInstall " specifies file types

To use Emmet in .js or .jsx files that define React components, add the following.

let g:user_emmet_settings = {'javascript.jsx': {'extends': 'jsx'}}
autocmd FileType html,css,javascript.jsx,scss EmmetInstall

Syntax for HTML Snippets

The syntax for specifying HTML snippets is mostly like CSS selector syntax with no spaces.

In the examples that follow, the cursor position after triggering the snippet is indicated using the | character.

Child elements are specified with the > character.

For example, foo>bar>baz expands to:


Sibling elements are specified with the + character.

For example, foo+bar+baz expands to:


Climb up the element hierarchy within a snippet using the ^ character. This adds a sibling to the parent of the last element that was generated.

For example, table>tr>th+th^tr>td+td expands to:


The same result can be achieved using parentheses instead of ^.

The equivalent snippet is table>(tr>th+th)+(tr>td+td). Perhaps this is easier to understand.

Even easier would be to enter this as multiple snippets rather than trying to reason about how to use just one.

Multiple ^ characters can be used to climb up multiple levels, but that results in snippets that are difficult to understand at a glance.

CSS class names are specified with the . character.

For example, div.my-class expands to:

<div class="my-class">|</div>

and div.c1.c2 expands to:

<div class="c1 c2">|</div>

Element ids are specified with the # character.

For example, div#my-id expands to:

<div id="my-id">|</div>

Attributes are specified between square brackets.

Values with no special characters do not require quotes. If special characters are present, enclose attribute values in single or double quotes.

For example, div[foo=1 bar=two] expands to:

<div foo="1" bar="two">|</div>

and div[foo="contains space" bar='single quotes'] expands to

<div foo="contains space" bar="single quotes"></div>

Note that no commas are used between the listed attributes.

Element content is specified between curly braces.

For example, div{my content} expands to:

<div>my content|</div>

Elements in a snippet can be repeated with the * character followed by a number.

For example, td*3 expands to:


Incrementing numbers can be added in repeated content with the $ character. This can be used for ids, classes, and content.

For example, ul>li.item$*3 expands to:

  <li class="item1">|</li>
  <li class="item2"></li>
  <li class="item3"></li>

Numbering starts at 1 by default. A different starting value can be specified with @start and *times.

For example, div{item $@4}*3 expands to:

<div>item 4|</div>
<div>item 5</div>
<div>item 6</div>

The syntax described above can be combined to create more powerful snippets.

For example, div#my-id.my-class[foo=1 bar=two]{my content} expands to:

<div id="my-id" class="my-class" foo="1" bar="two">my content|</div>

Parts of snippets can be grouped using parentheses. This is useful for repeating specific sections.

For example, table>(thead>tr>th*3)+(tbody>(tr>td*3)*2) expands to:


Emmet can sometimes guess desired tag names based on context. These are called "implicit tag names."

For example, .foo expands to:

<div class="foo">|</div>

and ul>.foo expands to:

  <li class="foo">|</li>

Lorem Ipsum Text

"Lorem Ipsum" is scrambled Latin text that is frequently used as a placeholder for text that will be supplied later. Emmet can generate this text. By default it generates 100 words, but the number of desired words can be specified.

The snippet is the word "lorem" or the word "lipsum," optionally followed by a number.

For example, lorem and lipsum expand to 100 words, while lorem3 and lipsum3 expand to 3 words.

The words selected are random, but here is an example:

Sit debitis aliquam.

HTML Snippets

Emmet supports a large number of HTML snippets. The ones shown below seem to be the most useful.

  • ! expands to a common HTML template.
  1. <!DOCTYPE html>
  2. <html lang="en">
  3. <head>
  4. <meta charset="UTF-8">
  5. <title></title>
  6. </head>
  7. <body>
  8. |
  9. </body>
  10. </html>
  • a expands to <a href="|"></a>
  • a:link expands to <a href="http://|"></a>
  • a:mail expands to <a href="mailto:|"></a>
  • btn or button expands to <button>|</button>
  • c expands to <!-- | -->
  • img expands to <img src="|" alt="">
  • input:{type}
    • type can be one of button, checkbox, color, date, datetime, datetime-local, email, file, hidden, image, month, number, password, radio, range, search, submit, tel, text, time, url, or week
    • ex: input:number expands to <input id="" type="number" name="">
  • label expands to <label for="|"></label>
  • link expands to <link rel="stylesheet" href="|">
  • link:favicon expands to <link rel="shortcut icon" type="image/x-icon" href="|favicon.ico">
    • ol+ is an abbreviation for the snippet ol>li
  • opt or option expands to <option value="|"></option>
  • select+ is an abbreviation for the snippet select>option
  • script:src expands to <script src="|"></script>
  • table+ is an abbreviation for the snippet table>tr>td
  • tarea or textarea expands to <textarea id="|" name="" cols="30" rows="10"></textarea>
  • tr+ is an abbreviation for the snippet tr>td
  • ul+ is an abbreviation for the snippet ul>li

CSS Snippets

Emmet supports a large number of CSS snippets. The ones show below seem to be the most useful.

It may seem that there are too many to remember. However, in most cases your first guess for what a given snippet would be is correct.

  • ac expands to align-content: |;
  • ac:c expands to align-content: center;
  • ac:fe expands to align-content: flex-end;
  • ac:fs expands to align-content: flex-start;
  • ac:s expands to align-content: stretch;
  • ac:sa expands to align-content: space-around;
  • ac:sb expands to align-content: space-between;
  • ai expands to align-items: |;
  • ai:b expands to align-items: baseline;
  • ai:c expands to align-items: center;
  • ai:fe expands to align-items: flex-end;
  • ai:fs expands to align-items: flex-start;
  • ai:s expands to align-items: stretch;
  • as expands to align-self: |;
  • as:b expands to align-self: baseline;
  • as:c expands to align-self: center;
  • as:fe expands to align-self: flex-end;
  • as:fs expands to align-self: flex-start;
  • as:s expands to align-self: stretch;
  • b expands to bottom: |;
  • bd expands to border: |;
  • bd:n expands to border: none;
  • bdb or bb expands to border-bottom: |;
  • bdl or bl expands to border-left: |;
  • bdr or br expands to border-right: |;
  • bdt or bt expands to border-top: |;
  • bg expands to background: #000;
  • bgc expands to background-color: #fff;
  • bgc:t expands to background-color: transparent;
  • c expands to color: #000;
  • cur:d expands to cursor: default;
  • cur:p expands to cursor: pointer;
  • d:b or d expands to display: block;
  • d:f expands to display: flex;
  • d:g does not give display: grid;
  • d:i expands to display: inline;
  • d:ib expands to display: inline-block;
  • d:li expands to display: list-item;
  • d:n expands to display: none;
  • d:t expands to display: table;
  • fxd expands to flex-direction: |;
  • fxd:c expands to flex-direction: column;
  • fxd:r expands to flex-direction: row;
  • ff expands to font-family: |;
  • ff:m expands to font-family: monospace;
  • ff:s expands to font-family: serif;
  • ff:ss expands to font-family: sans-serif;
  • fs expands to font-style: |;
  • fs:i expands to font-style: italic;
  • fs:n expands to font-style: normal;
  • fw expands to font-weight: |;
  • fw:b expands to font-weight: bold;
  • fw:n expands to font-weight: normal;
  • fz expands to font-size: |;
  • h expands to height: |;
  • jc expands to justify-content: |;
  • jc:c expands to justify-content: center;
  • jc:fe expands to justify-content: flex-end;
  • jc:fs expands to justify-content: flex-start;
  • jc:sa expands to justify-content: space-around;
  • jc:sb expands to justify-content: space-between;
  • l expands to left: |;
  • lh expands to line-height: |;
  • m expands to margin: |;
  • mb expands to margin-bottom: |;
  • ml expands to margin-left: |;
  • mr expands to margin-right: |;
  • mt expands to margin-top: |;
  • o expands to outline: |;
  • p expands to padding: |;
  • pb expands to padding-bottom: |;
  • pl expands to padding-left: |;
  • pr expands to padding-right: |;
  • pt expands to padding-top: |;
  • r expands to right: |;
  • t expands to top: |;
  • ta:c expands to text-align: center;
  • ta:j expands to text-align: justify;
  • ta:l or ta expands to text-align: left;
  • ta:r expands to text-align: right;
  • td:l expands to text-decoration: line-through;
  • td:n or td expands to text-decoration: none;
  • td:u expands to text-decoration: underline;
  • tt:c expands to text-transform: capitalize;
  • tt:l expands to text-transform: lowercase;
  • tt:u or tt expands to text-transform: uppercase;
  • v:h or v expands to visibility: hidden;
  • v:v expands to visibility: visible;
  • va:b expands to vertical-align: bottom;
  • va:m expands to vertical-align: middle;
  • va:t or va expands to vertical-align: top;
  • w expands to width: |;
  • z expands to z-index
  • @media or @m expands to @media screen { | }

A number can be added after many CSS snippets to specify a value. These include snippets for border, font, margin, and padding.

For example, m20 expands to margin: 20px;.


The tables below describe Emmet actions and the keys to trigger them in VS Code and Vim. For Windows and Linux, substitute "ctrl" wherever you see "cmd."

In VS Code, all Emmet actions can be selected from the "Command Pallete" which is opened by pressing cmd-P. None of these commands have a default keybinding.

Emmet Command Pallete

To add keybindings in VS Code:

  1. Open Preferences ... Keyboard Shortcuts from the "File" menu in Windows and Linux, or the "Code" menu in macOS.
  2. Enter "Emmet" in the search input at the top to filter the commands to just those supplied by Emmet.
  3. Select a command and press the "+" that appears to its left.
  4. Finally, type the shortcut key sequence to be associated with the command and press enter.
Emmet Keyboard Shortcuts

VS Code allows keybindings to be added to commands even if the keybinding is already assigned to another command. To determine if a keybinding has been assigned to multiple commands, right-click any command that uses it and select "Show Conflicts."

In the tables below, the "VS Code Key" column shows suggested shortcut keys, but none of these are configured by default.

Commonly Used Actions

Action Description VS Code Key Vim Key
expand abbreviation the primary action enter or tab <emmet-leader> comma in insert mode
go to next edit point jumps to next edit point cmd-opt-right arrow <emmet-leader> n
go to previous edit point jumps to previous edit point cmd-opt-left arrow <emmet-leader> N
wrap with abbreviation wraps selected text in a snippet for which you will prompted select lines and cmd-A <emmet-leader> comma in visual mode
balance tag outward selects all of element under cursor; repeat to expand outward cmd-d <emmet-leader> d
balance tag inward selects all of element under cursor, but one level less than current selection; repeat to expand inward cmd-D <emmet-leader> D, but doesn't work
remove tag deletes tag under cursor, but not its contents cmd-k <emmet-leader> k (incorrectly also deletes contents)
toggle comment toggles whether the tag under the cursor is commented out cmd-/ <emmet-leader> /
merge lines merges selected lines into one line cmd-M <emmet-leader> m
split/join tag toggles tag under cursor from having a closing tag to closing in shorthand way (deletes content) cmd-j <emmet-leader> j
go to matching pair jumps between a start and end tag cmd-T not supported
select next item moves to next start tag, attribute name, or attribute value and selects it cmd-> not supported
select previous item moves to previous start tag, attribute name, or attribute value and selects it cmd-< not supported
increment number by 1 adds to number under cursor ctrl-up arrow not supported
decrement number by 1 subtracts from number under cursor ctrl-down arrow not supported
increment number by 10 adds to number under cursor ctrl-shift-up arrow not supported
decrement number by 10 subtracts from number under cursor ctrl-shift-down arrow not supported
increment number by .1 adds to number under cursor ctrl-opt-up arrow not supported
decrement number by .1 subtracts from number under cursor ctrl-opt-down arrow not supported

Less Commonly Used Actions

ActionDescriptionVS Code KeyVim Key
evaluate math expression replaces the math expression under cursor with result cmd-Y not supported
encode/decode image to data:URL toggles CSS url function value between a file path and a data: URL cmd-I not supported
reflect CSS value copies CSS value under cursor to all vendor-prefixed variations in same rule cmd-b not supported
update image size adds width and height attributes to the img tag under cursor cmd-U <emmet-leader> i, but doesn't work

Non-standard Actions

These are actions that are not described at https://docs.emmet.io but are implemented by either VS Code or vim-emmet.

ActionDescriptionVS Code KeyVim Key
update tag changes tag under cursor; will prompt for new tag cmd-c not supported
anchorize URL changes URL under cursor to an anchor tag using that URL; must start with http:// or https:// not supported <emmet-leader> a in insert mode

"split/join tag" example

With the cursor over the start tag of the element foo, this would change <foo><bar>baz</bar></foo> to <foo />.

Custom snippets

Many Emmet plugins support user-defined custom snippets. For more information about these, see https://docs.emmet.io/customization/.


Emmet can save web developers a lot of time. Once you learn the basic syntax, it's pretty easy to use.

Give it a try in your favorite editor!

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