Creating a Basic HTML Help File

All Help files consist of topics. Each topic is a page with Help information that you view separately. In HTML Help (the standard used in this chapter), each topic is analogous to a Web page and can contain arbitrary HTML, pictures, links to other topics, CSS (Cascading Style Sheets) styles, JavaScript (which can be used to great effect), and even ActiveX controls (although this isn't recommended). You can also refer to topics by a unique topic name or numeric ID. This gives you the ability to launch a Help file and position it at a specific topic to give the user information that's relevant to the current window or task. This is the basic tool for incorporating context-sensitive Help.

Essentially, a Help file is nothing more than a collection of topics. However, Help files typically have a few extras, such as a table of contents, index, and full-text search. The index and lull-text search, if you choose to use it, is generated for you automatically when you compile your Help. You build the table of contents, and have each link in it lead to a specific topic (although you can have topics that aren't in the table of contents, and can be reached only by clicking a link in another topic).

As explained earlier, sophisticated Help is designed with professional tools (or a collection of shareware and freeware utilities). However, if you're completely new to Help, you can learn a fair bit by creating a basic, barebones Help file and using it in a Windows application. Along the way, you'll learn some of the basic concepts that you need to create Help files in any application.

Before you begin, you can download and install the HTML Help SDK from http:// msdn.microsoft.com/library/en-us/htmlhelp/html/hwMicrosoftHTMLHelpDownloads.asp. However, because the HTML Help SDK doesn't provide much of an editor, it's easier to prepare your files before you use it.

■Tip For a detailed reference that includes advanced topics with HTML Help SDK, read the PDF tutorials at www.mvps.org/htmlhelpcenter/htmlhelp/hhtutorials.html.

You can start by planning your table of contents. In this example, the table of contents includes these topics:

Welcome Introduction

The Value of Help Bad Help

The indents represent different levels of hierarchy. In other words, the last two topics are contained inside the Introduction topic. Stand-alone topics are represented as pages, whereas topics that contain subtopics are usually shown as a folder or book (although technically you can customize both of these images). Each of these items is linked to a topic page, including the Introduction topic. Figure 22-7 shows the table of contents as it will appear in the Help window.

- 02) Introduction

[3 The Value Of Help

Figure 22-7. A basic table of contents

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