How to Make Help File With VB.NET


Would you like to add a help file to your application? I think it is easy to do with VB.NET. You can read another article (How to make help file with C#).

This is an uncomplicated trial to add help to your project, it is easy to create.


I wrote an 
article before about new ActiveX control (MKGrid), and wrote its help using Microsoft HTML Workshop and it was necessary to write more than sixty HTML files because every item of my help needs one file, and that was so boring!

I think It's probably a good idea to make my help file by myself, this trial will not be costing me more than a TreeView control and XML file.

Now, this article explains how to create a help for my ActiveX MKGrid; you need a little code to create a help using a TreeView control and populate it with a XML file.

Step 1: Write XML file:

Use "MS FrontPage" or "MS Word" or any word processor to write XML file for help, see my sample MyHelp1.xml and MyHelp2.xml in the folder (DataFiles) which I wrote for the MKGrid control.

Step 2: Add the following reference to your code:
Imports System.Xml

Step 3: Design help form.

My project has three forms:

frmMain form: this form is an example for main form of your project.

I used this form to show the ActiveX control MKGrid which I wrote help for it, you can add MKGrid control to the ToolBox as (COM Components) from (MyActiveX) folder.

frmHelp1 form:
 my article about this form; this form has the following controls:

TextBox (its name: txtHelp, to display help)
Button (its name: btnClose, to close help form)
TabControl (its name:tabHelp)

This tab has two pages: ContentsPage, IndexPage

TreeView (its name: tvHelp) put on (ContentsPage)
ComboBox (its name: cmbHeading, its type: Simple) put on (IndexPage)
Label (its name: lblHint, its text: Type Keyword to find) put on (IndexPage)
Button (its name: btnDisplay) put on (IndexPage)

frmHelp2 form: has the same controls of frmHelp1 form.

Using the Code

Add the following variables to frmHelp1 and frmHelp2:

 MyHelpFile As String
    Private XmlDoc As New XmlDocument

Add the following code to the Form_Load procedure:

    'init TreeView
    tvHelp.ImageList = IconImages
    tabHelp.SelectedTab = ContentsPage

in frmHelp1:

    MyHelpFile = Application.StartupPath + "\DataFiles\" + "MyHelp1.xml"

in frmHelp2:

    MyHelpFile = Application.StartupPath + "\DataFiles\" + "MyHelp2.xml"

Code for frmHelp1:

We shall set the nodes name to tvHelp TreeView control by the following procedure:

    Private Sub LoadTreeView()
        Dim xNodeList As XmlNodeList
        Dim xNode As XmlNode
        Dim strNode As String
            ' set root node of TreeView.
            tvHelp.Nodes.Add("Application Help")
            tvHelp.Nodes(0).Tag = "AppHelp"
            tvHelp.Nodes(0).ImageIndex = 0
            tvHelp.Nodes(0).SelectedImageIndex = 0
            ' set Introduction node to TreeView.
            tvHelp.Nodes(0).Nodes(0).Tag = "Introduction"
            tvHelp.Nodes(0).Nodes(0).ImageIndex = 2
            tvHelp.Nodes(0).Nodes(0).SelectedImageIndex = 2
            ' set Methods node to TreeView.
            tvHelp.Nodes(0).Nodes(1).Tag = "Methods"
            tvHelp.Nodes(0).Nodes(1).ImageIndex = 0
            tvHelp.Nodes(0).Nodes(1).SelectedImageIndex = 0
            ' set Properties node to TreeView.
            tvHelp.Nodes(0).Nodes(2).Tag = "Properties"
            tvHelp.Nodes(0).Nodes(2).ImageIndex = 0
            tvHelp.Nodes(0).Nodes(2).SelectedImageIndex = 0
            ' set all Method nodes to TreeView.
            xNodeList = XmlDoc.SelectNodes("//Method")
            For Each xNode In xNodeList
                strNode = xNode.SelectSingleNode("title").InnerText
                ' add Method title to ComboBox
            ' set Method nodes image
            For i As Integer = 0 To tvHelp.Nodes(0).Nodes(1).Nodes.Count - 1
                tvHelp.Nodes(0).Nodes(1).Nodes(i).ImageIndex = 2
                tvHelp.Nodes(0).Nodes(1).Nodes(i).SelectedImageIndex = 2
            ' set all Property nodes to TreeView.
            xNodeList = XmlDoc.SelectNodes("//Property")
            For Each xNode In xNodeList

                strNode = xNode.SelectSingleNode("title").InnerText
                ' add Property title to ComboBox
            ' set Method nodes image
            For i As Integer = 0 To tvHelp.Nodes(0).Nodes(2).Nodes.Count - 1
                tvHelp.Nodes(0).Nodes(2).Nodes(i).ImageIndex = 2
                tvHelp.Nodes(0).Nodes(2).Nodes(i).SelectedImageIndex = 2
            cmbHeading.SelectedIndex = 0
        Catch ex As Exception
        End Try
    End Sub
How to read a help when clicking any item? The following procedure can do the job:

    Private Sub DisplayHelp(ByVal strName As String)
        Dim xNode As XmlElement
        Dim strHelp As String
        ' if user click any title
        xNode = XmlDoc.SelectSingleNode("//*[title='" + strName + "']")
        strHelp = xNode.InnerText
        txtHelp.Text = strHelp
    End Sub

We need three events to display help when click tvHelp node, when click btnDisplay or when click any item of cmbHeading ComboBox:

Please read the code of tvHelp_AfterSelect (), btnDisplay_Click() andcmbHeading_MouseDoubleClick ()

If you don't like the code of frmHelp1 form and MyHelp1.xml file, you can use the following code of frmHelp2 form and MyHelp2.xml file.

Code for frmHelp2:

We shall read a nodes name from the MyHelp2.xml file to set it to tvHelp TreeView control, we do this by two procedures LoadHeading() and AddNextNodes():

    Private Sub LoadHeading()
        Dim XmlDoc As New XmlDocument
        ' Add first node (the Root)
        tvHelp.Nodes.Add(New TreeNode(XmlDoc.DocumentElement.Name))
        Dim tNode As New TreeNode
        tNode = tvHelp.Nodes(0)
        ' Add next nodes
        AddNextNodes(XmlDoc.DocumentElement, tNode)
    End Sub 

    Private Sub AddNextNodes(ByVal xmlNode As XmlNode, ByVal treeNode As TreeNode)
        Dim xNode As XmlNode
        Dim tNode As TreeNode
        Dim nodeList As XmlNodeList
        If xmlNode.HasChildNodes Then 'The current node has children
            nodeList = xmlNode.ChildNodes
            ' Set all child nodes
            For i As Integer = 0 To nodeList.Count - 1
                xNode = xmlNode.ChildNodes(i)
                ' Get the name of node (we want set the head of help item)
                If xNode.NodeType = XmlNodeType.Element Then
                    ' Add child nodes to TreeView
                    treeNode.Nodes.Add(New TreeNode(xNode.Name))
                    ' Add node name to ComboBox
                    cmbHeading.SelectedIndex = 0
                    tNode = treeNode.Nodes(i)
                    ' Add next child nodes if any
                    AddNextNodes(xNode, tNode)
                    ' Set image to the node
                    Dim strName As String = xNode.Name
                    Select Case strName
                        Case "EasyHelp" ' Heading
                            tNode.ImageIndex = 0
                            tNode.SelectedImageIndex = 1
                        Case "Methods" ' Heading
                            tNode.ImageIndex = 0
                            tNode.SelectedImageIndex = 1
                        Case "Properties" ' Heading
                            tNode.ImageIndex = 0
                            tNode.SelectedImageIndex = 1
                        Case Else ' other nodes (Pages)
                            tNode.ImageIndex = 2
                            tNode.SelectedImageIndex = 2
                    End Select
                End If
        End If
        ' We shall Remove Introduction, Methods, Properties from ComboBox: 
        ' We do not want to display the (Introduction) in Index
        ' (Methods) hasn't any help
        ' (Properties) hasn't any help
    End Sub
following procedure can read help:

    Private Sub ReadHelp(ByVal strNode As String)
        Dim textReader As XmlTextReader = Nothing
        Dim s As String = ""
            textReader = New XmlTextReader(MyHelpFile)
            While textReader.Read()
                If textReader.Name = strNode Then
                    s = textReader.ReadString()
                    txtHelp.Text = s
                End If
            End While
        Catch ex As Exception
            If textReader.EOF Then textReader.Close()
        End Try
    End Sub


When extracting the files you can find:

VB.NET (2008) project with three forms.

  • The folder (MyActiveX) includes KGrid.ocx ActiveX control.
  • The folder (DataFiles) includes MyMarket.mdb, MyHelp1.xml and MyHelp2.xml.
  • The folder (Icons) includes three icons.

I hope this article is useful; if you have any idea, please tell me.