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Getting Help (Visual C#) 

The Help documentation for Visual Studio is contained in the MSDN Library, which you can install locally on your own computer or network, and which is also available on the internet at The local version of the library consists of a collection of compressed HTML files in the .hxs format. You can choose to install either all or part of the library on your machine; the complete MSDN installation is close to 2GB in size and it includes documentation for many Microsoft technologies. You can view both the local and the online MSDN documentation using the Visual Studio Help browser called Microsoft Document Explorer.

There are six ways to access Help while working in Visual C#:

  • F1 Search

  • Search

  • Index

  • Table of Contents

  • How Do I

  • Dynamic Help

Online vs. Local Help

On the Help Options property page under the Options menu, you can specify the following options for search behavior, including F1 search:

  • Try the online MSDN library first, then your local documentation if no match is found.

  • Try the local MSDN library first, then the online documentation if no match is found.

  • Try only the local MSDN library.

These options will also appear the first time you invoke any search. The online MSDN documentation may contain more recent updates than your local documentation. Therefore, if you have an internet connection while working in Visual C#, it is recommended that you set the search option to try the online MSDN library first. From time-to-time, updates to local documentation may be made available for download. For more information on documentation updates, check the Visual Studio Developer Center.

F1 Search

F1 provides context-sensitive search capabilities. In the code editor, you can access the Help documentation for C# keywords and .NET Framework classes by positioning the insertion point cursor on or just after the keyword or class member and pressing F1. When a dialog box or any other window has the focus, you can press F1 to get Help for that window.

An F1 search returns no more than one page. If no match is found, an informational page that provides some troubleshooting tips is displayed.


Use the search interface to return all documents that match any specified term or set of terms.

The Search interface looks like this:

Search options

You can also use the Help Options page on the Options menu to specify whether you want to search Codezone Web sites in addition to the MSDN library. Codezone sites are run by Microsoft partners and provide useful information on C# and the .NET Framework. Codezone content is only available online.

The same online versus local search options apply to both Search and F1 Search.

In the Search interface you can narrow or broaden your search by specifying what kinds of documents to include. There are three options, Language, Technology, and Topic Type. You will generally obtain the best results by checking only those options that apply to your current development scenario.


The index provides a quick way to locate documents in your local MSDN library. It is not a full-text search; it searches only the index keywords that have been assigned to each document. An index lookup is generally faster and more relevant than a full-text search. If more than one document contains the index keyword that you specify in the index search box, then a disambiguation window opens and enables you to select from among the possible choices.

The Index window is located by default on the left side of Document Explorer. You can access it from the Help menu in Visual C#.

Table of Contents

The MSDN library table of contents shows all the topics in the library in a hierarchical tree view structure. It is a useful tool for browsing through the documentation to get an idea of what is contained in the library, and for exploring documents that you might not find through index or search. Often, when you find a document through F1, index, or search, it is useful to know where it is located in the table of contents so that you can see what other related documentation exists for a given topic. Click the Sync with Table of Contents button in the Document Explorer toolbar to see where the currently displayed page is located in the MSDN library.

How Do I

How Do I is a filtered view of the MSDN library that mostly includes documents called How-to's or Walkthroughs that show you how to perform a specific task. You can access How Do I Help from the Document Explorer toolbar or the Help menu, or the Start page. Each language in Visual Studio has its own How Do I page, and the page that you see will depend on the type of project that is currently active.

Dynamic Help

The Dynamic Help window displays links to reference documentation for the .NET Framework and the C# language based on the current position of the insertion point in the code editor. For more information, see How to: Customize Dynamic Help.

See Also