Felix Dahlke is a software developer particularly interested in games and open source. He writes most of his code in JavaScript, C++ and Python. Felix is a DZone MVB and is not an employee of DZone and has posted 16 posts at DZone. You can read more from them at their website. View Full User Profile

Eclipse Color Theme

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About half a year ago, I began to work on what has become my most popular open source project up until now: Eclipse Color Theme, a plugin that makes it possible to use colour themes in Eclipse. I thought this was a good time to talk a bit about the history and future of the project.

The black on white ages

It all started with me being fed up with Eclipse not supporting colour themes in any reasonable way. Since Eclipse was mandatory at my old job, I was forced to stare at it all day. I don’t like to stare at black on white text all day, so I had to find a way to use colour themes.

Before I continue, you need to know that Eclipse preferences are a mess. A complete and utter mess. Every plugin can store arbitrary key value pairs of data, and there is no way to export or import preferences selectively, it’s all or nothing.

There are no central colour settings, so every plugin stores their own, in the format of their choice. In practice, this means that even if you actually change all the colours for the Java editor manually, you will have to do it again for the JavaScript editor. And the XML editor, and the JavaScript editor, and whatever other editor you want to use. This is highly inconvenient.

And because Eclipse preferences are such a mess, all you can do to share a colour theme you created is to export your preferences and have someone else import them. And since your preferences contain all your Eclipse settings, it will completely mess up the other person’s settings. Bah.

So I guess it’s safe to say that using colour themes in Eclipse without going insane was impossible. The only solution I saw was to create a plugin that would take care of changing each editor’s preferences according to a standarised colour theme format, without messing any other settings up.

I created a prototype that supported just the Java editor and a single hard coded colour theme to see if this would work. It did, so I added another colour theme and published version 0.1 of Eclipse Color Theme on the Eclipse Marketplace.

The colour themes revolution

I never thought that many people would be interested in having colour themes for Eclipse. Probably just a small bunch of geeks like me, coming from Vim and Emacs. Searching the Internet for Eclipse colour themes revealed just a handful of people sharing their exported preferences or asking about theme support, but it were really few. There was even an ancient ticket about colour theme support in Eclipse’s bug tracker, for which about 4 people voted during all that time. So I thought I’d create the plugin more or less for myself.

Turns out I was wrong, I received many emails of appreciation, even a couple of donations. So I was quite motivated to improve the plugin and add support for more editors, at first XML, HTML, JavaScript, CSS and C++. At that time, my own needs where met, but I kept adding things that were requested via email or GitHub.

At some point, Roger Dudler contacted me and told me that he was planning to create a website where people could create colour themes for Eclipse, and whether I wanted to join forces. I did, so we both worked on plugin and website together (well, I did only a few things on the website so far), and eclipsecolorthemes.org was born, allowing users to create their own colour themes with a WYSIWYG editor.

Did I tell you how wrong I was about nobody being interested in colour themes for Eclipse? I was. Within a few weeks, Eclipse Color Themes climbed to the top 4 of Eclipse Marketplace with thousands of installations, and hundreds of themes on eclipsecolorthemes.org.

This huge demand created a constant flood of emails, asking us to support new editors or reporting problems. We decided to make the plugin more modular and easier extendable, using Eclipse plugin features like extension points. Roger, who had some experience with Eclipse RCP development, did that conversion mostly by himself.


Maintaining the plugin is not too much work, so Roger and I are able to concentrate on other projects. Our own needs are long met, especially since I don’t use Eclipse on a daily basis anymore. (At my current job, everyone uses IntelliJ IDEA – whose theme support is only slightly better than Eclipse’s – and I’ve switched back to Emacs for C++ and JavaScript development.) Nonetheless, my ambition is to release Eclipse Color Theme 1.0, preferably this year, and there are still a few issues to be solved and improvements to be made.

One interesting topic for the future is Eclipse 4, which will introduce a new, themable UI. If I understood it correctly, plugins can either use the old or the new UI technology, which means it will probably take a while until all important plugins make use of it. Maybe it will make sense to support Ecilpse 4, we’ll wait and see.

Since Eclipse Color Theme is (in theory) modular, i.e. support for new editors can be added by other plugins, it would be nice to split it into multiple plugins, e.g. one for each Eclipse plugin package (JDT, WTP, CDT, PDT, …). Ideally, the developers of the package would also maintain the colour mappings, but I guess that’s wishful thinking.

If there is one thing I learned in this project, it’s how remarkably motivating it is to have lots of users and lots of feedback. Thanks to all of you writing emails, creating themes and donating money, you’re a great source of motivation.


From http://ubercode.de/blog/eclipse-color-theme

Published at DZone with permission of Felix Dahlke, author and DZone MVB.

(Note: Opinions expressed in this article and its replies are the opinions of their respective authors and not those of DZone, Inc.)



Pavel Tavoda replied on Wed, 2011/06/29 - 3:39am

Hello, I'm using it for 2 months only but it's really most useful additional plugin I ever installed on my JEE eclipse. I have only small problem with quick inspection window in debug.

Cody A_ replied on Wed, 2011/06/29 - 7:00am

I too am using the plugin and am grateful that so many dev's appreciate the ability to customize the development environment. I have many times lost interest in development tools due to the lack of customization options. Having this feature is a huge benefit for the comfort level of developing for several hours. Good luck in your future endeavors & thanks for the great plugin.

Marc Stock replied on Wed, 2011/06/29 - 1:36pm

"At my current job, everyone uses IntelliJ IDEA – whose theme support is only slightly better than Eclipse’s – and I’ve switched back to Emacs for C++ and JavaScript development."

You're kidding, right? Eclipse essentially has no theme support without this plugin and IntelliJ's support is still much better even with the plugin. Additionally, IntelliJ has had this feature for about 10 years. That said, if you HAVE to use eclipse, I strongly recommend you get this plugin even though it has a ways to go. I still can't fathom how people can work all day on an IDE with a white background.

Felix Dahlke replied on Wed, 2011/07/06 - 7:29am

@Mark: Well, IntelliJ has the ability to manage color themes, which puts it far ahead of Eclipse. Sadly, when I tried to import themes, it always messed up some editors. All themes worked with the Java editor, hardly any with the AS3 editor etc. So I fear the themes are in some way language dependent.

Ahmed Saad replied on Tue, 2011/07/12 - 1:57am

that's a pretty nice idea .. since i spend a lot of time in front of eclipse , customizing the IDE interface is very effective to such people who like change ....

Sirikant Noori replied on Sun, 2012/01/15 - 12:10pm

really great and useful , but unfortunately I cannot use it because I’m behind a corporate firewall and there is no internet access on my PC ..
Why you don’t offer an offline install version? SourceMate did that with their Plugin allowing people without direct internet access like me to use it.

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