Microsoft WinHelp is a proprietary format for online help files that can be displayed by the Microsoft Help browser winhelp.exe or winhlp32.exe. The file format is based on Rich Text Format (RTF). It remained a popular Help platform from Windows 3.0 platform through Windows XP. WinHelp was removed in Windows Vista purportedly to discourage software developers from using the obsolete format and encourage use of newer help formats.

Microsoft WinHelp
Filename extension.hlp
Developed byMicrosoft
Initial release1990
Extended fromRTF
Microsoft WinHelp
Operating systemMicrosoft Windows
Replaced byMicrosoft Compiled HTML Help
TypeHelp system


  • 1990 - WinHelp 1.0 shipped with Windows 3.0.
  • 1995 - WinHelp 4.0 shipped with Windows 95 / Windows NT.
  • 2006 - Microsoft announced its intentions to phase out WinHelp as a supported platform. WinHelp is not part of Windows Vista out of the box. WinHelp files come in 16 bit and 32 bit types. Vista treats these files types differently. When starting an application that uses the 32 bit .hlp format, Windows warns that the format is no longer supported. A downloadable viewer for 32 bit .hlp files is available from the Microsoft Download Center.[1][2] The 16 bit WinHelp files continue to display in Windows Vista (32 bit only) without the viewer download.
  • October 14, 2009 - Microsoft announced the downloadability of Windows Help program (WinHlp32.exe) for Windows 7 at the Microsoft Download Center.[3]

File format

A WinHelp file has a ".hlp" suffix. It can be accompanied by an optional table of contents (.cnt) file if the help developer created one. When Windows opens a WinHelp file, it creates a .gid file in the same directory or in "%LOCALAPPDATA%\Help", containing information about the .hlp file such as the window size and location. If the user clicks the "Find" tab and enables keyword indexing, Windows creates an index file with a .fts (full text search) extension. Annotations and bookmarks for each Windows help file have the extension ".ann" and ".bmk".

A number of software tools can decompile a WinHelp file into its source documents—HPJ, CNT, RTF, BMP, SHG). An HPJ file is the project file that is created and edited in the Help Workshop (or a third party help authoring tool). The HPJ contains information about what RTF files to compile into the help, the MAP IDs and Aliases that provide links from a calling application to the help file, and help file appearance (window size, default buttons, color schemes, etc.). The CNT file provides the table of contents for the help file. An SHG file is a "SHED" graphics file that essentially creates an image map of help calls for a graphic file (e.g., a BMP).

A number of tools can read and explore these files. (See, for example, Help to RTF and winhelpcgi.)

.hlp Description
.hpj project file (plain text?); contains a list of all .rtf files to compile into the .hlp file and some additional information
.cnt Table of Contents (TOC) file.
.rtf actual text content in Rich Text Format-format
.bmp .dib .wmf .shg picture-files in various formats: .bmp or .dib, .wmf .shg
.fts .ftg Full Text Search; used for searching through the text of help documents
.ann file with annotations (plain text?)
.bmk file with bookmarks (plain text?)

Source files and compilation

Source files required to compile a .hlp file consist of one or more documents in Rich Text Format and a help project file with the extension .hpj, along with any image files (.bmp, .wmf, or .shg) that are used within the Help file. An optional table of contents file with the extension .cnt can also be created for use with the .hlp file.

Within the .rtf files, topics are separated by page breaks. Each topic has a series of footnotes that contain information for the help compiler:

# footnotes contain the topic ID (used to create links to that topic).
$ footnotes contain the topic name as it displays in the table of contents, index, and other locations.
K footnotes contain keywords for the index.
A footnotes contain See Also keywords.
* footnotes contain build tags.
+ footnotes contain browse sequence information.
! footnotes contain topic entry macros.

Only the # footnote is required. All others are optional.

Text in each topic can contain limited formatting, including bold text, italics, and colors. Superscript and subscript are not allowed. Jumps between topics in the same Help file usually appear in the source document as double-underlined text (green by default, though this can be overridden) followed by a topic ID in hidden text. Popup links appear in the source document as text with a single underline (also green by default) followed by a topic ID in hidden text. (In the .hlp file, the jumps show up as green text with a single underline, and popups show up as green text with a dotted underline.)

Images can be added using codes such as {bmc image.bmp}. Supported image formats include .bmp, .wmf, and .shg (used for image maps, which can contain jumps or popups that are triggered by clicking on specific parts of the image).

After the source files have been created, the help file can be compiled using a WinHelp compiler such as HCW.exe or by using a commercial software program such as RoboHelp or HelpBreeze, most of which (included the two cited here) also use hcw.exe as the backend compiler.

WinHelp appearance and features

Depending on how it has launched and what settings the Help author chose, a WinHelp file opens either to its default topic, its table of contents, or its index.

A topic in a WinHelp file opens in a separate window, in a size and initial position that the Help author may choose. Users can resize or reposition the window. The Help author can control whether the Help file stores the user's settings between sessions, or always opens in the default size and position.

When a topic is open, a title bar at the top of the Help window displays the topic title. Below that is a row of menus (File, Edit, Bookmark, Options, and Help), which control various aspects of the file. A row of buttons usually appears below the menus. The Help author controls which buttons, if any, appear. Typical buttons include Contents, Index, Back, and Print, along with << and >> buttons to browse through the file. Help authors can also create custom buttons to jump to specific topics or perform other actions.

Below the buttons is the main text area of the window. Typically, the text begins with a heading, often bold or in a larger font than the rest of the text. This heading may sometimes be in a non-scrolling region—an area of the window that does not move up or down via the scrollbar at the side of the window. Non-scrolling regions can only be used at the beginning of a topic. The Help author can control size and background color of a non-scrolling region.

Help authors can also control the background color of the main text area, where the actual text of the topic appears. This text can be formatted and arranged in many ways. Within the text, jumps appear as green text with a single underline. Single-clicking on a jump opens a different topic. Some jumps may open secondary Help windows to display information. Popups appear in the text as green text with a dotted underline. Single-clicking on a popup opens a small window with no menus, buttons, or scrollbars, sized to fit the text. Often, popups provide short definitions of key terms or other supplemental information about the main text. The popup automatically disappears the next time the user clicks or presses a key.

Many, though not all Help topics have See Also jumps at the end of the text. Depending on the Help author's preference, this feature may be a simple list of jumps under the heading See Also, or it may be a small button that, when clicked, brings up a dialog box displaying all the relevant topics. Clicking on the name of a topic in that dialog box then clicking Display opens that topic.

Most Help files also contain a table of contents and an index to help users locate information. These appear in a separate, tabbed window. Clicking on the Contents tab opens the table of contents, in which users can click on headings to see the topics. Often, headings are marked with icons that look like small books and the topics have icons that look like pages. Double-clicking on a topic (or clicking on a topic then clicking Display) opens that topic. Clicking on the Index tab opens the index, which has a typing field and an alphabetical keyword list. Typing in the typing field automatically scrolls the list of keywords to the closest match. Double-clicking on a keyword (or clicking on a keyword then clicking Display) displays the topic associated with that keyword (if only one) or brings up a list of all topics associated with it. The index is important in helping users locate information. Sometimes Help files also have a Find tab, which lets the user search for any word used in the text of the file, not just for keywords.

WinHelp also supports a feature known as context-sensitive help. Context-sensitive help is assistance that is appropriate to where the user is in the software application, and what they are trying to do.

A rather security critical feature is that one can also include a DLL file containing custom code and associating it with WinHelp topics. Effectively this makes .HLP files equivalent to executables.

End of support

At the 2006 WritersUA conference, Microsoft announced its intentions to phase out WinHelp as a supported platform. Ted Dworkin (Partner Director of WinHelp Experience) stated, "WinHelp does not meet the code standards established for Vista. These standards include security, reliability, and performance." He went on to say that WinHelp is designed in such a way that, "...we would have to rewrite it from the ground up to meet the Vista code standards. And that approach doesn't make sense given that we have two other Help systems in Vista."

The updated licensing agreement prohibits application developers from packaging the WinHelp libraries with their installers. This means that WinHelp manuals for legacy applications are not readable on a new Windows Vista installation. To read them, the end-user must obtain the 32-bit WinHelp viewer from Microsoft's website and manually install it.[4]

Other documentation file formats

Although documentation can be maintained entirely in a vendor-specific presentation format such as WinHelp, it is more often the case that documentation must be published in multiple presentation formats at once: Microsoft Compiled HTML Help (CHM), WinHelp, HTML pages, Java Help, PDF, etc. It would be very expensive and error-prone to maintain each format separately.

For this reason, authors often maintain documentation in an industry-standard, vendor-neutral authoring format—such as DocBook or FrameMaker—that can be used to generate several different presentation formats (including WinHelp). Various presentation files thus produced (with WinHelp or other tools) contain consistent content because they were generated from the same source.

See also


  1. ^ "Download WinHelp Viewer for Windows Vista". Microsoft.
  2. ^ "I cannot open Help files that require the Windows Help (WinHlp32.exe) program". Support. Microsoft. February 26, 2009. Archived from the original on June 28, 2009. Retrieved August 28, 2009.
  3. ^ "Windows Help program (WinHlp32.exe) for Windows 7". Microsoft. October 14, 2009. Retrieved October 20, 2009.
  4. ^ "Windows Help program (WinHelp32.exe) is no longer included with Windows". Support. Microsoft. May 24, 2006. Archived from the original on June 12, 2006.

External links

  • Help-Info: Information around Online Help (Microsoft), Examples, etc.
  • HelpMaster: Largest selection of WinHelp, HTMLHelp and HTML related files and hints
Adobe RoboHelp

Adobe RoboHelp is a help authoring tool (HAT) developed and published by Adobe Systems for Windows. RoboHelp was created by Gen Kiyooka, and Blue Sky Software released version 1.0 in January 1992.Blue Sky Software was founded in 1990 and changed its name to eHelp Corporation on 4 April 2000. Macromedia acquired eHelp Corporation on 24 October 2003. Macromedia was, in turn, acquired by Adobe Systems on 3 December 2005. Adobe Systems has developed and released nine successive versions of RoboHelp since 2007.

Context-sensitive help

Context-sensitive help is a kind of online help that is obtained from a specific point in the state of the software, providing help for the situation that is associated with that state.

Context-sensitive help, as opposed to general online help or online manuals, does not need to be accessible for reading as a whole. Each topic is supposed to describe extensively one state, situation, or feature of the software.

Context-sensitive help can be implemented using tooltips, which either provide a terse description of a GUI widget or display a complete topic from the help file. Other commonly used ways to access context-sensitive help start by clicking a button. One way uses a per widget button that displays the help immediately. Another way changes the pointer shape to a question mark, and then, after the user clicks a widget, the help appears.

Context-sensitive help is most used in, but is not limited to, GUI environments. Examples include Apple's System 7 Balloon help, Microsoft's WinHelp, OS/2's INF Help or Sun's JavaHelp.

A similar topic is embedded help, which can be thought of as a "deeper" context-sensitive help. It generally goes beyond basic explanations or manual clicks by either detecting a user's need for help or offering a guided explanation in situ. Embedded help is not to be confused with a software wizard.


HLP may refer to:

Halim Perdanakusuma Airport, in East Jakarta, Indonesia, IATA code

Hepatocyte growth factor-like protein

Houston Lighting & Power, HL&P, former Texas, US utility

Huntington Library Press, an American publisher

File extension for several help file types, including WinHelp


HPJ may refer to:

.HPJ, a file extension used by Microsoft WinHelp

Hewlett-Packard Journal

High Plains Journal

Women's Defence Forces (Kurdish: Hêzên Parastina Jinê), part of the Kurdistan Free Life Party

Help authoring tool

A Help Authoring Tool or HAT is a software program used by technical writers to create online help systems.

Hyper Publish

Hyper Publish is a visual WYSIWYG hypermedia authoring tool created by Visual Vision, an Italy based software company.

The software is born from a research work performed in 1995/96 at Politecnico di Torino and has been designed and optimized for hypermedia and hypertext management, focusing on Web content development and CD authoring.

Its unique WYSIWYL interface permits visual linking and live links, and probably makes it different from any other multimedia / hypermedia authoring tool.

HyperPublish is used for creating Web sites, multimedia / hypermedia CD and DVD, product catalogs and user manuals.

The product can output in various formats, including:

HTML; direct Web publishing

CD-ROM, DVD with internal search engine

Microsoft WinHelp

Microsoft Compressed HTML Help

Rich Text Format (RTF)HyperPublish works with a document that encapsulates a set of pages and images, instead of working with single HTML pages/files, so its design is different from traditional HTML editor programs: the user does not have to manage / memorize single filenames; with the editor it is possible to revise, browse, and search within the whole hypertext without the need to continuously save and load the information.

The software includes an integrated all-in-one environment that permits both automated Web publishing and automated CD publishing.

The ancestor of HyperPublish, iPer (that is also the common ancestor of PaperKiller), was created in 1996 at Politecnico di Torino and was presented at the ED-Media 97 EdMedia World Conference on Educational Multimedia, Hypermedia, and Telecommunications in Calgary.

Information Presentation Facility

Information Presentation Facility (IPF) is a system for presenting online help and hypertext on IBM OS/2 systems. IPF also refers to the markup language that is used to create IPF content. The IPF language has its origins in BookMaster and Generalized Markup Language developed by IBM. The IPF language is very similar to the well-known HTML language, version 3.0, with a range of additional possibilities. Therefore, a trained user may use virtually any word processor when creating IPF documents. The IPF language consists of 45 basic commands.

IPF files are compiled using the IPF Compiler (IPFC) into viewable INF or HLP files. IPF HLP files are distinct from the WinHelp HLP files that are prevalent in Windows.

OS/2 contains a built in viewer, and there are other viewers available for other platforms.

List of features removed in Windows Vista

While Windows Vista contains many new features, a number of capabilities and certain programs that were a part of previous Windows versions up to Windows XP were removed or changed – some of which were later re-introduced in Windows 7.

The following is a list of features which were present in Windows XP but were removed in Windows Vista.

Microsoft Arcade

Microsoft Arcade is a series of classic arcade game compilations.

Microsoft Compiled HTML Help

Microsoft Compiled HTML Help is a Microsoft proprietary online help format, consisting of a collection of HTML pages, an index and other navigation tools. The files are compressed and deployed in a binary format with the extension .CHM, for Compiled HTML. The format is often used for software documentation.

It was introduced as the successor to Microsoft WinHelp with the release of Windows 98 and is still supported in Windows 7. Although the format was designed by Microsoft, it has been successfully reverse-engineered and is now supported in many document viewer applications.

Microsoft Help

Microsoft Help may refer to:

Microsoft WinHelp — Windows 3.0

Microsoft Compiled HTML Help — Internet Explorer 4 and Windows 98

Microsoft Assistance Markup Language — Windows Vista

Microsoft Help 2 — the help system used by Visual Studio 2002/2003/2005/2008 and Office 2007

Microsoft Help Viewer — the help system used by Visual Studio 2010

Microsoft Help 2

Microsoft Help 2.x is a proprietary format for online help files, developed by Microsoft and first released in 2001 as a help system for Visual Studio .NET (2002) and MSDN Library.

Microsoft Help 2.x is the help engine used in Microsoft Visual Studio 2002/2003/2005/2008 and Office 2007 and Office 2010. Help files are made with the Help 2.0 Workshop (VSHIK), a help authoring tool. The default viewer for Help 2.x files is Microsoft Document Explorer, and there are several third-party viewers available such as H2Viewer and Help Explorer Viewer.

Visual Studio 2010 uses a new help engine, Microsoft Help Viewer.

Microsoft Help Viewer

Microsoft Help Viewer 1.x is the offline help system (local help) developed by Microsoft that ships with Visual Studio 2010 and its associated MSDN Library.

Microsoft Help Viewer 1.x supersedes Microsoft Help 2 which is the help system used by Microsoft Visual Studio 2002/2003/2005/2008 and Office 2007.

This is a new product and does not use any of the old help 2 code base. During development it was referred to as MS Help 3.x. With the growing need for a general Unicode based help system, it has the potential of becoming the next general help system for Windows.

Microsoft Office 2003

Microsoft Office 2003 (codenamed Office 11) is an office suite developed and distributed by Microsoft for its Windows operating system. Office 2003 was released to manufacturing on August 19, 2003, and was later released to retail on October 21, 2003. It was the successor to Office XP and the predecessor to Office 2007.

New features in Office 2003 include information rights management; new collaboration features; improved support for SharePoint, smart tags, and XML; and extended use of Office Online services. Office 2003 introduces two new programs to the Office product lineup: InfoPath, a program for designing, filling, and submitting electronic structured data forms; and OneNote, a note-taking program for creating and organizing diagrams, graphics, handwritten notes, recorded audio, and text. It also introduces the Picture Manager graphics software to open, manage, and share digital images.With the release of Office 2003, Microsoft rebranded the Office productivity suite as an integrated system dedicated to information workers. As a result, Microsoft appended the "Office" branding to the names of all programs. Office 2003 is also the first version with support for Windows XP colors and visual styles, and introduces updated icons.Office 2003 is the last version of Office to include the menu bar and toolbars across all programs, as well as the last version to include the "97 - 2003" file format as the default file format. It is compatible with Windows 2000 SP3 and later, but not with Windows NT 4.0, Windows 98, or Windows ME. It is the last version of Office compatible with Windows 2000, since Office 2007 requires Windows XP or a later version. Microsoft released a total of three service packs for Office 2003 throughout its lifecycle. Service Pack 1 was released on July 27, 2004, Service Pack 2 was released on September 27, 2005, and Service Pack 3 was released on September 17, 2007. Mainstream support for Office 2003 ended on April 14, 2009, and extended support ended on April 8, 2014, the same dates that mainstream and extended support ended for Windows XP.

Online help

Online help is topic-oriented, procedural or reference information delivered through computer software. It is a form of user assistance. Most online help is designed to give assistance in the use of a software application or operating system, but can also be used to present information on a broad range of subjects. When online help is linked to the state of the application (what the user is doing), it is called Context-sensitive help.

Segmented Hyper Graphics

A Segmented Hyper Graphics (SHG) file is a computer image file format that contains a bitmap and optionally a number of hotspots. This file format was developed for use in WinHelp files, and allowed the user to click on different parts of an image to jump to different topics in the help file. SHG files can still be imported by some help authoring tools and thus can be used to create help files in formats other than WinHelp.

The SHG format is rarely used for help file formats other than WinHelp. Most other help formats use a method based on HTML image maps.

Shadow Copy

Shadow Copy (also known as Volume Snapshot Service, Volume Shadow Copy Service or VSS) is a technology included in Microsoft Windows that allows taking manual or automatic backup copies or snapshots of computer files or volumes, even when they are in use. It is implemented as a Windows service called the Volume Shadow Copy service. A software VSS provider service is also included as part of Windows to be used by Windows applications. Shadow Copy technology requires the file system to be NTFS in order to create and store shadow copies. Shadow Copies can be created on local and external (removable or network) volumes by any Windows component that uses this technology, such as when creating a scheduled Windows Backup or automatic System Restore point.

Tahoma (typeface)

Tahoma is a humanist sans-serif typeface that Matthew Carter designed for Microsoft Corporation. Microsoft first distributed it, along with Carter's Verdana, as a standard font in the initial release of Windows 95.

While similar to Verdana, Tahoma has a narrower body, smaller counters, much tighter letter spacing, and a more complete Unicode character set. Carter first designed Tahoma as a bitmap font, then "carefully wrapped" TrueType outlines around those bitmaps. Carter based the bold weight on a double pixel width, rendering it closer to a heavy or black weight. In contrast with some other sans-serif typefaces, including Arial, the uppercase "I" (eye) is distinguishable from lowercase "l" (ell), which is especially important in technical publications. Since 2010, Ascender Corporation has offered italic and small caps versions of Tahoma.

Tahoma is often compared with Frutiger, another humanist sans-serif typeface. In an interview by Daniel Will-Harris, Carter acknowledged that Tahoma has some similarities with his earlier Bell Centennial typeface.The Tahoma typeface family was named after the Native American name for the stratovolcano Mount Rainier (Mount Tahoma), which is a prominent feature of the southern landscape around the Seattle metropolitan area.


VBdocman allows commenting and the automatic generation of technical documentation from Visual Basic 6 source code files.

VBdocman parses the Visual Basic projects and automatically creates the table of contents, index, topics, cross-references and F1 context-sensitive help.

It can read Javadoc comments from the source code. VBdocman contains comment editor which helps writing comments. It is possible to insert pictures, links and other formatting directly into the source code.

The format of output documentation is configurable. Predefined formats are HTML Help, WinHelp, HTML, RTF and XML.

VBdocman has its successor VSdocman which supports VB .NET and C#.

File systems
Spun off to
Microsoft Store

This page is based on a Wikipedia article written by authors (here).
Text is available under the CC BY-SA 3.0 license; additional terms may apply.
Images, videos and audio are available under their respective licenses.