Visual Studio Code for CS50

Visual Studio Code for CS50 is a web app at code.cs50.io that adapts GitHub Codespaces for students and teachers. It automates the process of creating a repository inside of CS50’s GitHub organization, pushing to it an initial .devcontainer.json, and creating a “codespace,” which is a Docker “container” in the cloud (akin to your very own virtual server). Ultimately, it allows students to start programming with just a browser, without needing to install or configure anything locally on their own computer. Within their browser is a full-fledged version of Visual Studio Code, aka VS Code, including a tabbed text editor, terminal window (connected to a Docker container running cs50/codespace), and graphical file explorer.

You can also use VS Code locally, even offline without internet, particularly if feeling more comfortable.

Getting Started

User Interface

See code.visualstudio.com/docs/getstarted/userinterface.

Themes

See code.visualstudio.com/docs/getstarted/themes.

Settings

VS Code supports quite a few settings via which you can customize a codespace:

  1. User settings, which “apply globally to any instance of VS Code you open” and can be applied to codespaces as well via Settings Sync.

  2. Remote settings, which are set by CS50 via .devcontainer.json file in a codespace. Remote settings override User settings.

  3. Workspace settings, which can be set by you via VS Code’s GUI (or by editing .vscode/settings.json manually). Workspace settings override Remote settings.

In other words, in terms of predecence, workspace settings > remote settings > user settings.

If you use VS Code outside of CS50, you might thus want to store most of your settings in User settings (and enable Settings Sync). And if there are any Remote settings set by CS50 that you would like to override, you can do so via Workspace settings.

Using Git

Because a codespace is already associated with a Git repository in CS50’s code50 organization at https://github.com/code50, which is used for automated backups, CS50 effectively disables git anytime you’re inside of /workspaces/$RepositoryName (which is a codespace’s default directory), wherein $RepositoryName is your (numeric) GitHub ID.

However, you can still use git outside of that directory, as by cloning other repositories into /workspaces itself. For instance, if you’d like to clone https://github.com/octocat/Hello-World into a codespace, you could execute

cd /workspaces
git clone https://github.com/octocat/Hello-World
cd Hello-World

at which point you could use git within that /workspaces/Hello-World directory as usual. Note that only /workspaces/$RepositoryName will be automatically backed up to CS50’s code50 organization; repositories that you clone into /workspaces will not.

Deleting a Codespace

Deleting a codespace will delete all files and folders therein. If you are sure you want to delete a codespace:

  1. Visit code.cs50.io/settings.

  2. Under Your codespaces, to the right of main, click , select Delete, and click OK.

You can then create a new codespace by logging back into code.cs50.io.

Using VS Code Locally

If feeling more comfortable, you can also use VS Code locally:

  • without Docker, but with internet access, so that you can connect to a codespace remotely

  • with Docker, via which you’d run a codespace-like container on your own computer, even without internet access

Without Docker

To use VS Code locally without Docker, but with internet access, connecting to a codespace remotely:

  1. Download and install VS Code itself on your computer.

  2. Install VS Code’s GitHub Codespaces extension.

  3. Visit code.cs50.io, check Open in VS Code desktop, and log in as usual; you should be prompted to open the codespace in VS Code itself.

    Alternatively, if already logged into a codespace, click the codespace’s “hamburger” menu () and select Open in VS Code.

    Alternatively still, if already logged into a codespace, open the codespace’s command palette, as via Ctrl+Shift+P on Linux, ⇧⌘P on macOS, and Ctrl+Shift+P on Windows, select >Codespaces: Open in VS Code.

With Docker

To use VS Code locally with Docker, running a codespace-like container on your own computer, even without internet access, and opening a folder like foo therein:

  1. Download CS50’s latest .devcontainer.json file from raw.githubusercontent.com/cs50/codespace/main/.devcontainer.json, saving it in foo. Because the file’s name starts with a dot (i.e., period), it might seem to “disappear” when you download it. But, in a terminal window on Linux or macOS, you should see it with ls -a, and at a command prompt in Windows, you should see it with dir /a.

  2. Download, install, and start Docker on your computer.

  3. Download and install VS Code itself on your computer.

  4. Install VS Code’s Remote - Containers extension.

  5. Open VS Code’s command palette, as via Ctrl+Shift+P on Linux, ⇧⌘P on macOS, and Ctrl+Shift+P on Windows, select >Remote-Containers - Open Folder in Container…, and open foo.

    Alternatively, select >Remote-Containers: Install devcontainer CLI, and then, in VS Code’s terminal window, cd to foo and execute devcontainer open ..

Once the container finishes building and starting, you should find that foo is mounted within the container at /workspaces/foo.

Acknowledgements

Special thanks to CS50’s friends at GitHub and Microsoft for their support of this app!