MS Help Viewer 2.0 Code Examples

HV2 is the help runtime for both Visual Studio 11 and Windows 8. The code examples show you how to access the new COM based Help API and build UI elements such as full text search, full TOC and index.

Detailed documentation can be found here:
See also:
For more information on Help Viewer 2 see also:

Previous Microsoft Help Systems

A look at where we have been.
  • WinHelp (.hlp) - Great in it's day but now retired because of old ANSI, RTF based help, and the old C code was getting hard to maintain and keep secure.
  • HTML Help (.chm) - Still active but starting to show it's age. It's only ANSI and the help file format & most of the API are undocumented.
  • MS Help 2 (.hxs) - Help system for Visual Studio 2002/2003/2005/2008. API / COM interface documentation never released for public use.
  • AP Help - Offshoot of MS Help 2 used for Window Vista, Windows 7 and Office help. Only available to Microsoft in-house.
  • Help Viewer 1.0 (.mshc) - Visual Studio 2010 RTM help. Fully replaced MS Help 2.x runtime (DExplore). Help files are a simple zipped HTML source renamed to .mshc. The Help API is REST based and very intuitive, powerful and well documented. The runtime is only available on PCs with VS 10. A simple browser based interface with no TOC and Index was criticized as a major step backwards in an otherwise very mature product (VS 10),
  • Help Viewer 1.1 (.mshc) - Visual Studio 10 SP1 help. Now has a dedicated help viewer window with full TOC and full index and bookmarks (as requested by users). A more familiar experience for users but still lacking filtering. Still only available to VS 10 users.
  • Help Viewer 2.0 (.mshc) - Visual Studio 11 help. Runtime rewritten and now has a COM interface (also Agent tray application is gone). The .mshc help file format is the same. The VS 11 help viewer is now very mature and content manager is now built into the viewer. Windows 8 uses the same API (identical runtime DLL) for it's desktop help. Windows 8 have a different help viewer than VS 11.


  • Q. Is HV2 redistributable? - No. Currently the HV2 runtime is only available on PCs with VS 11, and on Windows 8 PCs.
  • Q. Can I use HV2 in my own projects? - Yes as long as you have VS 11 or Windows 8, the help runtime is available for use but not officially supported by Microsoft.

Last edited Apr 24, 2012 at 4:24 AM by helpware, version 15


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