How to add extensions and plugins to Eclipse Theia

How to add extensions and plugins to Eclipse Theia

This article series describes how to get started with the Eclipse Theia IDE. In this article, we focus on how to add new features to Theia by adding extensions and/or plugins. Please see this article for a comparison of Eclipse Theia extensions and Theia plugins and here for a quick introduction of Theia. In pure Theia, there are four ways of adding new functionality, which we describe in the following sections:

  • Adding extensions to Eclipse Theia
  • Adding plugins to Eclipse Theia at build time
  • Adding plugins to Eclipse Theia at runtime
  • Adding plugins to Eclipse Theia using Che

How to add an extension to Eclipse Theia

This is actually very simple. As Eclipse Theia is essentially a node application, adding an extension to Theia just means  adding another dependency to the package.json of your Theia instance. Please see the article on How to launch Eclipse Theia from your own custom package.json for more details.

There are two sources  you can get new extensions from, either you add an extension which is published in the node package registry, or — if you are developing an extension yourself — you can add it locally. The following example package.json adds two extensions to a Theia product, one being the existing Java extension, published in the node package registry, the second one being a custom extension, that you have created locally (“myExtension”).

  "private": true,
  "dependencies": {
    "typescript": "latest",
    "...": "...",
    "...": "...",
    "@theia/java": "next".
    "myExtension": "myVersion"
  "devDependencies": {
    "@theia/cli": "next"

After rebuilding your Theia instance you will have those extensions available, e.g. with the Java extension in the example above, you can now use auto-completion in Java source files:

The Theia IDE Java extension in action

Please see here for a list of Theia extensions, which are currently published in the node package registry.

How to add plugins to Eclipse Theia at build/launch time

Please note that in the previous section we described how to add extensions to Theia, the remaining sections are about plugins. Please see this article on a comparison between Eclipse Theia plugins and extensions to get a more detailed picture on the differences between extensions and plugins.

One of the differences is that, in contrast to extensions, plugins can be added at runtime. However, if you want to add a plugin to your Eclipse Theia instance before you even launch Theia, you can specify a directory to be scanned for plugins. All plugins contained in this directory will be added automatically when Theia is launched. To enable the extensibility via plugins in general, you first need to add the “plugin-ext” extension to your Theia (to the package.json). This has to be done once and enables the general ability to extend Theia with plugins.

  "private": true,
  "dependencies": {
    "...": "...",
    "@theia/plugin-ext": "latest".

Now you need to place your plugins in a directory and let Theia use them. There are two ways to specify the directory containing the plugins to be added on start up, either with a command line argument…

theia start --plugins=local-dir:/pathTo/plugins/

… or via an environment variable:

export THEIA_DEFAULT_PLUGINS=local-dir://absolute-path-to-plugins-folder

In both cases, Theia will scan the specified directory on start up, unzip all contained plugins and add them to your instance. You can check that they are correctly installed by opening the “Plugins View” as shown in the following screenshot (this view is added by the “plugin-ext” extension)

A plugin installed in the Eclipse Theia IDE

How to add plugins to Eclipse Theia at runtime

Plugins can also be installed at runtime, which is one of the main differences to extensions. Again, as described in the previous section, you need to add the extension “plugin-ext” beforehand to enable plugins in general. The extension adds the “Plugins View”shown before, but also contributes a new command called “Deploy plugin by ID”. This command supports several source locations to install plugins from. By default, “plugin-ext” currently supports to install plugins:

  • From a local directory using: local-dir:/pathTo/plugins/
  • Via HTTP/HTTPS using: https://path/to/my.plugin
  • Via the GitHub protocol using: github:<org>/<repo>/<filename>@<version>

The following screencast shows the plugin installation from a local directory, as you can see, the plugin is installed at runtime and can directly be used.

Installing a plugin into the Eclipse Theia IDE

There is actually a fourth source where you can install plugins from, the VS Code Plugin marketplace. This due to the fact that Theia plugins provide the same API as VS Code (as described in this article). As this fourth option is of special interest, we will describe it in more detail in a follow up article.

How to add plugins to Eclipse Theia using Che

Eclipse Che is a workspace server and uses Theia as default IDE. Please see our earlier article on the relationship between Eclipse Che and Theia for more details. Che adds some nice features on top of standard Theia, e.g. a plugin registry, from where users can install plugins. So when using Theia in Eclipse Che, you can open the following view called “Plugins” in your workspace configuration, select from a list of available plugins and even specify the version to be used. Please note that Eclipse Che plugins can contain more than just a Theia plugin, they can also extend the runtime and Che itself (as described in more detail in this article). Please note that quite a few of the  plugins provided in Che rely on VS Code plugins. As mentioned before, we will describe this capability more in detail in a follow up article.

Adding a Che-Theia plugin to Eclipse Che


Eclipse Theia is extensible in several ways,- using extension or plugins, at build time, at start-up or even at runtime. This covers various use cases – as a provider of a tool, you can add default features using extensions or by adding default plugins on start-up. As a user, you can add your favorite features by installing plugins as you like. Therefore, even if the two extension models might be a little confusing when getting started with Theia, their existence provides a lot of flexibility. As you can see with Che, which adopts Theia, you can even provide your own extension mechanism on top of Theia, make it simpler or more focused and therefore target your specific user group.

If you want to build such an extensible product based on Eclipse Theia or Che; or provide your own custom extension or plugin; miss a feature, or need general support and advice on Eclipse Theia, have a look at our support and consulting offering for Eclipse Theia our service offering for web-based tools or tools in general and please get in contact with us!

Finally, if you are interested in future parts of this series, e.g. how to extend Eclipse Theia and how to customize, please follow us on Twitter, we will publish the next parts of this article series soon.

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