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HTML Help is now fully established as the standard Windows help format and unless you have a very good reason to use something else it is the best choice for online help distributed with modern Windows applications. Users are familiar with it, navigation is intuitive and it supports all the interactive and context-sensitive help technologies that make good help effective. And since it is HTML-based you have considerable flexibility for both formatting and introducing special features and functions.

HTML Help does have a couple of disadvantages: It is not ideal for web-based help or for help on networks, but it is the top choice for help installed with applications on the user's computer.

Restrictions on HTML Help on network drives:

Security restrictions in Windows now prevent access to HTML Help files network drives and the Internet. File links in HTML Help files will now generally not work at all across networks, you can only link to files stored in the same folder as the HTML Help CHM file. It is possible to enable display of HTML Help on network drives with some special Windows Registry entries, for which EC Software provides a weblinkfree tool.

Features and pros and cons of HTML Help:

File extension:



One CHM file contains the entire help.


All Windows versions since Windows 98

Typical use:

Local online help for applications installed on the user's computer

Table of contents:

Yes. Integrated in the CHM file and always visible in the viewer. Excellent, immediately intuitive navigation for the user.

Keyword index:


Full text search:


Context sensitive help:

Yes, full context-sensitive help support. Can include text-only field-level popups which can be displayed directly within your application without the main help window.  


Yes, both in the help viewer and for context-sensitive help. Natively, HTML Help only supports text-only popups without formatting or graphics. Only these plain-text popups can be used for field-level popups displayed in your application.

You can also use Help+Manual's JavaScript popups in HTML Help. In addition to formatted text and graphics JavaScript popups also support hyperlinks and even videos and animations.

You cannot mix JavaScript popups and plain-text popups in a single project but you can create a separate project containing only your plain-text popups if you want to include JavaScript popups in your main project.


All Windows-compatible video formats are supported, along with online video services. However, support for playing the formats used must also be installed on the user's computer. For example, if you use a DiVX video don't expect it to be playable on all user machines!

Generally speaking, MP4 video is the most reliable video format. However, if you want guaranteed compatibility it is best to put your video on an online service like YouTube or Vimeo. Then they will automatically handle the compatibility issues by generating multiple versions of your video and serving up the correct one for the current user.

Printable by user:

The Print function of HTML Help is very limited. The help viewer can print topics and chapters but each topic is printed on a separate page.


Single file containing all topics, graphics and the table of contents. Intuitive, directory tree style table of contents that is always visible to the user. Flexible formatting with HTML (in Help+Manual you have full control over your topic pages with HTML templates), including the ability to add functions with JavaScript etc. by adding your own code to topics and templates.The HTML base makes it easy to produce a browser-based version for the web that looks almost identical to the HTML Help version.


Popup topics are limited to plain text in native mode. Severe restrictions on deployment in networks and the Internet, primarily suitable for help installed locally on the user's computer together with the application.


See also:

HTML Help (Configuring Your Output)

HTML Help (Configuration Options)