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Getting Help (Visual C#)

Visual Studio 2008

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


For information on community forums, Microsoft support, and other types of help, see Additional Help Resources (Visual C#).

There are eight ways to access documentation when you are working in Visual C#:

  • F1 Search

  • Search

  • Index

  • Table of Contents

  • Help Favorites

  • How Do I

  • Dynamic Help

  • Samples

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

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

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

  • Try only the local MSDN library.

These options will also appear the first time that you invoke any search. The online MSDN documentation may contain more recent updates than the local documentation. Therefore, if you have an Internet connection and are working in Visual C#, 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 about documentation updates, check the Visual Studio Developer Center.

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 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 obtain 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 following illustration represents the Search interface:

Search options

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

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 the 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, a disambiguation window opens and enables you to select from among the possible choices.

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

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 obtain an idea of what is 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, you might want 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 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.

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

Visual Studio 2008 installs samples application for Visual Basic, Visual C#, Visual C++, and Visual Studio Team System on your local hard disk. To access the samples, click Samples in the Help menu and then follow the instructions and links on the samples page.