Open Source Encore: VS Code create path while renaming with /

VS Code has a feature where when creating a new file, if its name contains /s, the path the directory the files is being created in concatenated with the path given by the slashes gets created (if it doesn’t already exist) and the new file gets placed in this final directory.

For years I have been missing the ability to do this when renaming files, too. Got a file in a directory and could use it being in a subdirectory and maybe even named something else? Not problem, just prepend the subdirectory name to the file name while renaming! That was my dream for some long and today I set out to advocate for this feature to be included in VS Code and I felt pretty good about my justification seeing as the precedent was already there with the new file creation flow supporting this behavior.

I opened this VS Code issue to track my plea:

Wanting to be a good netizen, I set out to figure out how to contribute this myself so that the VS Code team is more inclined to take the idea in if it comes with a working implementation.

I’ve contributed bits to VS before, but it has been a long time and I wasn’t even sure how to build and run it anymore. So, the first step was to find the contribution guide. VS Code has but what is honestly rather odd is that there is so much prose and just a single line detailing what to do when meaning to contribute code! And that line is a link here:

This helped me figure out that I needed to install Node 18, global Yarn and when that was done, I could finally run yarn to install the dependencies and build. I then switched over to the yarn watch command so I didn’t need to pay any mind to building the code after making my changes.

Next I used the ./scripts/ command to run the built VS Code binary and do my testing there. Pretty quickly though I realized that I can’t access console.log outputs in the output of this script easily (if at all) so I looked for a better way.

The scope of the VS Code codebase absolutely calls for bigger guns, so I found a VS Code Debugger configuration simply called VS Code which also served to run the built app, but in addition allowed me to attach to it and place breakpoints at points of interest which I was investigating.

This makes the research much quicker and allows for cool stuff like hover tips for runtime types and other stuff which is extremely handy when the debugger is set up well. Unfortunately setting up debug configurations still isn’t as easy as placing a console.log in the source code so I rarely bother to do it, but I absolutely appreciate that it is set up for VS Code and could not imagine working in any other way on such a massive codebase.

Anyway, since I knew I wanted to replicate a feature already seen in the new file creation workflow, I first started by investigating how that even worked end to end. I mapped all of the code sites that are involved and a bit about what they do. I paid particular interest to the part of this flow which takes care of the / handling to make the path for the new file if its name contains slashes.

I started off by looking for the “New File…” string in the VS Code codebase. I found several matches via full-text search so I renamed all of them to add a unique number at the end and then re-run the debugger. After hovering over the New File button in the Explorer pane I was able to find which of the ~seven previously identical strings I was looking at.

The text was in src/vs/workbench/contrib/files/browser/views/explorerView.ts and I saw that in its context of the registerAction2 there was also a run action to go along with it.

This is a place a could place a breakpoint and start stepping over and into stuff from there.

The mkdirp is a dead giveaway because the Unix command for creating a path is mkdir -p and the associated comment also notices this call creates the path recursively until all of the component folders exist.

So now we know how the file creation flow manages to handle the /s. It uses mkdir to ensure the whole path exists before persisting the actual file, so when a slash is a part of the files name, the directories are taken care of.

We want the same for the file rename flow so I set out to inspect how that worked hoping a pattern would emerge and I would find a nice spot where to use the newly found mkdirp function to the same effect.

I started off with the “Rename…” label followed by distinguishing the search results with numerical suffixes again to find the right one.

That ended up being in src/vs/workbench/contrib/files/browser/fileActions.ts named TRIGGER_RENAME_LABEL and the close-by RENAME_ID is shared with a different part of the codebase here: src/vs/workbench/contrib/files/browser/fileActions.contribution.ts.

In this file, we see the registerCommandAndKeybindingRule call has handler which is the entry point for what happens when the rename context menu item is pressed.

This looks like the perfect space to use mkdirp and leave the rest of the infrastructure to do its thing. And then I will finally get renames with slashes to work and will be able to contribute the fix!

Wait, what is that?

private async doMoveCopy(sourceProvider: IFileSystemProvider, source: URI, targetProvider: IFileSystemProvider, target: URI, mode: 'move' | 'copy', overwrite: boolean): Promise<'move' | 'copy'> {
	if (source.toString() === target.toString()) {
		return mode; // simulate node.js behaviour here and do a no-op if paths match

	// validation
	const { exists, isSameResourceWithDifferentPathCase } = await this.doValidateMoveCopy(sourceProvider, source, targetProvider, target, mode, overwrite);

	// delete as needed (unless target is same resurce with different path case)
	if (exists && !isSameResourceWithDifferentPathCase && overwrite) {
		await this.del(target, { recursive: true });

	// create parent folders
	await this.mkdirp(targetProvider, this.getExtUri(targetProvider).providerExtUri.dirname(target));

What is the mkdirp doing there? Did someone add this in an unreleased version of VS Code?

I took a few moments to go back to VS Code and do a quick sanity check to make sure this wasn’t already working in the released version.

And. It. Was.

I don’t know why, but I did not think to test this didn’t actually work before I even opened the issue. I remember being bothered by this for a long time but I did not think to check it wasn’t fixed before I went to file the issue. :D

Anyway, all’s not lost, there is nothing to contribute but there was enough to be learnt that might come in handy the next time I am looking to contribute to VS Code!

As one last bit, let’s take a look at how long this has been in VS Code proper using Git blame:

At least two fricking years. :) I could have been using this for two years now instead of instinctually complaning to myself that this doesn’t work and doing the move and rename in separate steps. :D

I closed the VS Code issue.