VS Code Profiles: Manage configurations easily for workflows

Have you ever wanted a custom setup in VS Code for a particular environment or workflow?

Well, you’re in luck! Today, I will show you how to do this inside VS Code with profiles. ✨

Profiles were added to VS Code in February 2023 (v1.7.6). Previously, people did this configuration outside of VS Code and had to do some command-line wrangling to make their own system. For example, Joe Previte created a teaching workflow for his egghead courses. This method can get messy if you are not careful! ⚙️🤕⚙️

What is a profile?

Profiles enable a user to save a configuration set including ui state,settings, and extensions. It can capture preferences that can help you switch between contexts. You can switch between profiles easily. 🔄

You can create 3 types of profiles:

  1. A profile based on the current profile. This is a duplicated copy of your current configuration. Use the command Profiles: Create from Current Profiles to create it.
  2. An empty profile. This is a clean slate. Use the command Profiles: Create Empty Profile.. to create it.
  3. A temporary profile. A temporary profile is useful for experimentation. It creates an empty profile with an automatically generated name such as Temp 1. You can use the profile for the lifetime of your VS Code session. It will be deleted once you close VS Code. Use the command Profiles: Create Temporary Profile to create a temporary profile.

Profiles can be synced across machines. You can export them and share them with colleagues to coordinate your work.

This was a missing piece of the setup for VS Code for a long time in my opinion.

What can a profile include?

A profile can include:

When a profile is created, it is creating a separate set of configuration files. It creates a folder in your user configuration folder named after your profile. Depending on your platform, the folder will be located in:

Use cases for profiles

The primary use case is for work modes, in my opinion. If you find yourself doing a particular type of work, you could benefit from this. Activity such as demonstrations, screencasting, reviewing pull requests, or writing docs have different requirements.

A secondary use case is for particular environments. If you have a fullstack project, it may be useful to have a frontend and backend profile to switch to a different UI layout and have certain actions more prominently available. Maybe you want your Ruby on Rails projects to be set-up differently than other Ruby projects.

I would issue some caution with creating profiles for languages and frameworks that you use, you could quickly get into a habit of overspecializing. Remember, it is possible to have language-specific settings in your global settings file! If some configuration is tied to a language, it may be better to put the configuration in there. I spoke about this in a previous article, Customize your VS Code setup for a project, or for a language if you want to learn more about that. It is something that people often are not familiar with.

A good rule of thumb is to only create a profile if you find yourself wanting to have the same configuration between projects, and it is not tied to a particular language.

One exception to the rule of thumb is that some extensions can always be loaded and you may not want this. This is not common because extensions are conditionally loaded, usually only when they are needed. It is usually only extensible extensions such as linters that are always loaded because they can be configured to be used by more languages or file types. I spoke about this in a previous article, VS Code - How many extensions should I use? if you want to learn more about the topic.

If you want tighter control, a profile can gives you that power. I would try to avoid micromanaging though!

Creaing a new profile - a “Teaching” profile

Let’s return to Joe Previte’s “Teaching” workflow that he created outside of VS Code. It should be instructive (pardon the pun) to do this with a profile, and compare my efforts and the outcome with what Joe did. Joe made his custom configuration in 5 steps. Let’s see how we fare!

Essentially, we want a minimal configuration. We want to be close to stock installation to be as simple and distraction-free as possible for students. We want to make text bigger. We will have a short set of settings like so:

"editor.fontSize": 18,
"terminal.integrated.fontSize": 16,
"window.zoomLevel": 1.25

Before we create a new profile, let me show you my default configuration for reference. Below is a screenshot of editing a markdown file, this post, with my current config.

Editing a markdown file with my current config

We will create an empty profile because we want to start from zero.

Open the Command Palette (Ctrl+Shift+P) and run the Create Empty Profile.. command. You will be prompted for a name. I will name the profile as “Teaching”.

You will see the UI flash and we are now in our new profile.

Editing a markdown file with the new teaching profile active

Everything looks different now because we have reverted back to the base settings!

Let’s edit our profile by changing the settings. Run the command Preferences: Open Current Profile Settings (JSON) to open the settings.json for the “Teaching” profile. Paste in the aforementioned settings and save. You will see the text increase in size and everything is zoomed in now.

My teaching profile configuration with settings changed to increase the size of everything.

Mission accomplished for our simple use case! 🙌

We did it in just 2 steps! Although, Joe uses the command-line for opening a project with his configuration. You can do this too without any extra effort!

How do I identify the current profile?

The primary means of identification is via the settings icon on the Activity Bar (the bar on the side). It has a badge with an abbreviation of the profile name.

Highlighting the profile badge on the manage activity item on the sidebar. Since I am using my Teaching profile, it has the text 'TE' in the badge.

You can see “TE” for my teaching profile.

The profile badge on the manage activity item. It features the first 2 letters of the profile you are using. It has the text 'TE' in the badge since I am using the Teaching profile.

This approach has a number of shortcomings. What if you prefer to hide the Activity Bar? What if you have profiles that have names that begin with the same 2 letters?

If you would prefer to show the profile on the status bar, you can use the Profile Status extension.

The status bar item provided by the Profile Status extension says 'Profile: Teaching'.

You can also display the profile name in the title bar. By default, the title shows the file name of the current editor and the folder name (workspace folder). If you edit the window.title setting in your settings.json, you can include the ${profileName} variable to have it as part of the title.

"window.title": "${profileName}",

I feel that the profile name gets lost if you have multiple values in there. I avoid this one myself.

Switching profiles

You can quickly switch between profiles with the Profiles: Switch Profile command. The command will presents a dropdown listing your available profiles. Pick one and it will change your configuration.

Switching profile in VS Code through the 'Profiles: Switch Profile' command. The dropdown shows the profiles to choose from. In my case, it is: default and teaching.

The current profile is associated with the current workspace. When you open that folder again, it will open with the profile from your last session.

How do I open a project from the command-line with a profile?

If you want to open a project direct from the command-line with your “Teaching” profile, you can use the code command with the --profile option. You supply the name of the profile as an argument, just like this:

# open a project with a profile
code ~/projects/teaching/website-tutorial --profile "Teaching"

Editing a profile

One thing to keep in mind when you want to edit the settings of a profile is that there are multiple settings.json files. There is: default, user, current profile, and project. There is a command for each of these in the command palette.

There are 4 setting.json files that you can edit. The screenshot show the 4 command options from the command palette dropdown filtered by the text 'settings jso'.

Make sure you run the Preferences: Open Current Profile Settings (JSON) command to open the settings.json for the current profile. If you are in your default profile, you will not see this command in the list.

You can open the profiles view to review the customizations for a profile with the Profiles: Show Contents command.

Profile view of teaching profile. This is opened with the 'profiles:show contents' command.

Since I only edited the settings, my “Teaching” profile has just Settings and UI State listed. You will see entries for keybindings, tasks, and extensions listed here if you customised them!

If you expand the UI State node, there is a globalState.json entry. This is an in-memory JSON representation of your profile’s UI State. This file does not actually exist on disk. Just in case you were wondering – I wondered!

You can rename an existing profile via the Profiles: Rename.. command in the Profiles menu.

You can delete a profile via the Profiles: Delete command.

You can import and export profiles with the Profiles: Import.. and Profiles: Export.. commands respectively. A profile can be exported as a GitHub gist or as file. If you chose to save the profile as a local file, a Save Profile dialog lets you place the file on your local machine. A profile is persisted in a file with the extension .code-profile.

Syncing profiles

You can use the builtin Settings Sync feature to use your profiles across machines.

To add profiles to your sync, run the Settings Sync: Configure command. A drop down will appear showing configuration items to include in the sync, check the Profiles item.

'Settings Sync: Configure' command dropdown with all configuration items selected to be synced such as: Settings, Keyboard Shortcuts, User Snippets, and so on.

Don’t forget to enable syncing, otherwise nothing will be synced! 😉

Final thoughts

Profiles are a great addition to VS Code and can help you tailor your editor experience to work in different contexts and environments. You no longer need to go outside VS Code to create your own configuration sets. The editor integration means you can switch between contexts with ease, and benefit from other builtin features such as syncing and sharing. That’s a signficant win in my book!

Further reading