Is there a variant of cat that outputs syntax-highlighted lines of code when used on a source file?

An idea: maybe vi[m] or another editor can be asked to dump the syntax-highlighted contents of said files to stdout and exit immediately?

5 Answers 5


Passing the file through pygmentize-f terminal will attempt to detect the type from the filename and highlight it appropriately.

  • Is that the Star Trek: Deep Space Nine font in their logo? If it is that's awesome. Aug 26, 2011 at 3:57
  • 2
    Available as package python-pygments on Debian.
    – enzotib
    Aug 26, 2011 at 7:57
  • 8
    I found alias pcat="pygmentize -f terminal256 -O style=native -g" to be a nice solution Dec 26, 2012 at 7:51
  • 1
    also available via pip install pygments
    – craigb
    Nov 8, 2013 at 20:59
  • 1
    Actually it must be cat code.extension | pygmentize -f terminal -l extension.
    – fiatjaf
    Apr 16, 2015 at 21:34

The Source-highlight package is shipped with the esc.outlang output language definition, which highlights with ANSI escape sequences.

A handy wrapper src-hilite-lesspipe.sh is also included in the package, so displaying highlighted output in the terminal is just src-hilite-lesspipe.sh source.file.

Actually src-hilite-lesspipe.sh's primary reason is to help automating the use of source-highlight with less. You just set:

export LESSOPEN="| /path/to/src-hilite-lesspipe.sh %s"
export LESS=' -R '

Then any less source.file will show highlighted source code. (Code in unknown language will pass through unaltered. Highlighting will be also skipped in case of redirected content, like less < source.file.)

  • Nice, thank you for taking the time to write up this answer
    – Paolo
    Nov 5, 2011 at 7:39

Highlight is simple to use and faster than pygmentize

  • 3
    Just don't forget to use -O ansi: unlike pygmentize, highlight outputs HTML by default.
    – Ruslan
    Sep 20, 2017 at 15:26

I use vimcat.


vimcat example

It looks good enough for me.

  • I like this idea to use my existing Vim highlighting, just wish the utility worked on all *nix and was available for MacOS via Homebrew! Mar 29, 2020 at 0:40

Based on @Mikael Öhman's comment on @Ignacio Vazquez-Abrams's answer, I wrote this Python program to use pygments if possible or else use cat.

#! /usr/bin/env python3

from argparse import ArgumentParser
import subprocess
import os
import os.path

def main():
    parser = ArgumentParser(description='cat alternative that uses ANSI characters')
    parser.add_argument('file', help='the file to print out the contents of', type=str)
    args = parser.parse_args()
    if not os.path.isfile(args.file):
        parser.error(f'file not found: {args.file}')
    cat = False
    result = subprocess.run(('pygmentize -f terminal256 -O style=native ' + args.file).split(), stdout=subprocess.PIPE,
    if result.stderr:
        cat = True
    commands = {
        True: 'cat ',
        False: 'pygmentize -f terminal256 -O style=native '
    os.system(commands[cat] + args.file)

if __name__ == '__main__':

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