Visual Studio Code


Visual Studio Code (VS Code) is an open source text editor developed by Microsoft and is free to use. It's known for being relatively lightweight while also incorporating key features found in modern IDE's such as Git integration and an extensive debugger. This makes VS Code great for anything from simple Python scripting to denser software engineering projects.

Getting VS Code on your own computer

Visit VS Code's website and follow the instructions to install it on your computer.


By now, you should have VS Code installed. You have the option of either finding the application or opening it up from the terminal. Recall from Lab 0 that you can open a terminal on the school computers by pressing Ctrl-Alt-t.

Let's first create and navigate to a directory called example, using the UNIX commands you learned in Lab 0:

mkdir ~/Desktop/example
cd ~/Desktop/example

Opening files

Now let's open up VS Code!

For Mac users, you'll most likely find VS Code in Applications.

For Ubuntu users, you'll most likely find VS Code by putting it in the search bar.

For Windows users, you'll most likely find VS Code in Program Files.

You can also open VS Code in your current working directory via command line:

code .

VS Code will open up to a welcome page. Open the explorer (page icon in the top left corner) then click EXAMPLE. To create a new file, either right click below EXAMPLE and select "New File" or click the page icon with a plus in the corner. Let's name our file A pop-up will appear in the bottom right corner prompting you to install the Python extension. We'll talk more about extensions later, but just install the Python extension for now, and ignore any other pop-ups that may appear. Now, we can begin programming!

blank vscode

Editing files

Now we have VS Code open, we can begin writing our first Python file. We'll be writing a short program that prints out a welcome message when executed. Don't worry, we don't expect you to know any Python yet! All you have to do is type in the following:

def welcome(name):
    print('Welcome to CS61A, %s!' % name)

Once you've finished typing, VS Code should look something like this:

welcome function

To save, you can just hit Ctrl-s (cmd-s on Mac) and the white dot by the file name should disappear.

Running Python

Back in our terminal, we're currently in our example directory. Let's play around with our code. In the terminal, start by typing

python3 -i

This command does the following:

  1. python3 is the command that starts Python
  2. The -i flag tells Python to start in interactive mode, which allows you to type in Python commands from your terminal
  3. is the name of the Python file we want to run

Notice that the Python interpreter says >>>. This means Python is ready to take a command.

Recall that we defined a function called welcome. Let's see what it does! Type in the following:

>>> welcome('Laryn')

Python will then print out

Welcome to CS61A, Laryn!

Our code works! Feel free to try it out with your own name. Ok, now let's close Python by typing in

>>> exit()

There are a couple of ways to exit Python. You can type in exit() or quit(). On MacOS and Linux, you can also type in Ctrl-d (this doesn't work on Windows).

Congratulations, you've edited your first file in VS Code!

Keyboard Shortcuts

VS Code has many, many keyboard shortcuts. Here are a few useful ones! (for Mac users, replace all the Ctrl sequences with cmd)

  • Ctrl-` : open an integrated terminal in VS Code
  • Ctrl-s : saves the current file
  • Ctrl-x : cuts the entire line your cursor is on
  • Ctrl-v : pastes the entire line you cut in the line above your cursor OR pastes the selected text in place
  • Ctrl-z : undo
  • Ctrl-shift-z : redo
  • tab : indent a line or a group of lines
  • shift-tab : dedent a line or a group of lines
  • Ctrl-d : highlights the current word. For every Ctrl-d you type after this first word, it will highlight every next instance of the word. This allows you to easily rename variables with multiple cursors! (Play around with this one, it's fun and very practical!)
  • Ctrl-tab : moves you to the next tab (Ctrl on Mac as well)
  • Ctrl-shift-tab : moves you to the previous tab (Ctrl on Mac as well)
  • Ctrl-f : search for a word
  • Ctrl-shift-f : searches through all tabs


Extensions allow you to customize your text editor. They are pieces of software written by people like you and me or companies to improve everyone's quality of life. Extensions can do anything ranging from changing the color scheme, to allowing you to control Spotify while you code, to letting you share your workspace in real time with your friends (❌ not on class assignments though ❌)! Here is the documentation regarding extensions, but feel free to browse on your own by hitting Ctrl+shift+x.


This guide only scratches the surface of VS Code's functionality. Remember, if there's something you wish VS Code could do, it probably can. Just Google it!