Help Sources: Local Help and Online Help 

This topic has been updated for Visual Studio 2005 SP1.

You can now access product documentation from two different sources: locally installed Help and online Help. Using local Help exclusively works the same way as in previous versions of Help: when you search or press F1, Help displays a topic or topics from the Help installed on your computer. When you include online Help, you expand Search and F1 results to include MSDN Online content and MSDN forums, as well as content found on Web sites partnered with Microsoft (called the Codezone Community).


If you access the Internet through a proxy server, you might be prompted to enter your proxy server credentials the first time you attempt to use an online Help feature.

The following table compares the two Help sources.

Help Source Advantages Disadvantages

Local Help

  • Does not need an active Internet connection to access Help.

  • Avoid Internet connectivity issues that can delay access to Help.

  • Help content is static and might not include the latest available information.

  • Requires that you install Help files on your computer or insert a CD or DVD to view topics.

Online Help

  • Does not require Help files to be installed on your computer. This option is useful if you installed your product from the Web and do not want to also download and install Help.

  • Provides automatic access to the latest documentation available for the product on MSDN Online.

  • Enables you to search third-party Web sites and MSDN forums for information.

  • Requires an active internet connection to access information. If you are offline, you cannot get Help.

  • Internet connectivity issues might cause a delay between the time you press F1 or click on a topic and when that topic actually appears in Document Explorer.

  • Information in the Contents and Index windows of Document Explorer are not updated with new titles or keywords from Online Help.

What Is Local Help?

Local Help refers to Help files you installed on your computer during setup or that you access from CDs or DVDs. This content is a static snapshot of the product documentation at the time the documentation was published. Local Help is not updated automatically with new content. Local Help is only updated if you install updated Help files to your computer or receive updated CDs or DVDs.

What Is Online Help?

Online Help consists of three default sources: MSDN Online, forum messages (called Questions), and Codezone Community. These sources are available for F1 Help results and during search, but are not integrated into the Index or Contents windows of Document Explorer.

MSDN Online

MSDN Online contains the latest versions of the content in the MSDN documentation set, including the latest quarterly releases. In addition, MSDN Online publishes new technical articles, samples, and white papers regularly.


Questions allows you to automatically search the archives for forum messages that can be found on MSDN Online, such as the Visual Studio Setup and Installation forum.

Codezone Community

Codezone Community is a group of third-party Web sites that have partnered with Microsoft to provide additional content for Help. This content can include technical articles and samples, among other formats.

How Does Online Help Work?

The first time you access Help by pressing F1 or searching, the Online Help Settings Dialog Box appears. You can use the dialog box to specify whether or not you want to include online Help sources. You can choose to use only local Help, check online Help first, or check online Help only after checking local Help.

You can change your choice at any time by using the Online, Help, Options Dialog Box.

F1 and Online Help

If you choose to use online Help as your primary Help source and you have an active Internet connection, when you press F1 a topic is downloaded from MSDN Online. Using online Help for F1 results gives you access to the latest Help information available.

If you choose to use local Help first and press F1 while part of the Visual Studio user interface (UI) is selected, Document Explorer searches the Help installed on your computer. If Document Explorer cannot find a local Help topic for the UI, it then searches MSDN Online for the appropriate topic. For more information, see How to: View Alternative F1 Help Results.

Search and Online Help

If you choose to include online Help and you have an active Internet connection, topics are listed from both local and online sources each time you search. Including online Help in searches gives you access to the latest Help information on MSDN Online, in forum archives, and on Codezone Community Web sites.

In Search Results, topics are grouped by their source. For example, if you choose to include MSDN Online and Codezone Community along with local Help in your searches, three groups of search results will be returned, one for each source. You can view results from each source individually. For more information, see How to: Include Online Content in Search and F1 Help Results.

See Also

Community Additions