Keep Offline Help Up-to-Date in Visual Studio 2010

One of my favorite features offered by the new help system in Visual Studio 2010 is the ability to easily update offline content with the latest documentation from MSDN. If you use offline documentation in Visual Studio, one of the first things you should do after installation is to check for the latest updates to the documentation. (Hopefully you’ve noticed that the .NET 4 WPF docs are no longer in ‘preview mode’ on MSDN…)

In previous versions of Visual Studio, there was no way to update the documentation that shipped in the box. When documentation bugs were fixed or new content was added, you had to go to the online library to see the latest content. Now you can use the Help Library Manager to easily find and install the latest fixes and additions.

There are two ways that you can get to the Help Library Manager.

Through the Start menu: Start > Microsoft Visual Studio 2010 > Visual Studio Tools > Manage Help Settings

HLM - Start

Through the Help menu in Visual Studio 2010:

HLM - VS Help

In the Help Library Manager, you can select whether to use online or local help, install content, and check for updates.

HLM - Check for Update

You can only check for updates to content that you have installed locally, so if you haven’t installed content, select ‘Install content from online’ to select content to be installed locally.

If you have content installed, select “Check for updates online”.

You’ll be shown a list of the content that you have installed, whether updates are available, and the size of the download. Click ‘Update’ to download and install the latest content.

HLM - Update

You have to check for updates manually, so how often should you check? If the download size is not an issue and you want to have the very latest content available, I recommend checking every 4 to 6 weeks to keep your local help updated with newly published content.

For more information about the new help system, see this video on Channel 9 and the official documentation on MSDN.

Comments (5)

  1. JDubman says:

    This is great, but why are the menu items labeled "Manage Help Settings" while the dialog is titled "Help Library Manager"? Furthermore, the dialog that "Manage Help Settings" brings up has both "Help" and "Settings" on the upper right in addition to links that seem to be the help settings…. This cannot be the optimal UI for this feature.

  2. Hi – I have passed your comments along to the team that owns this feature.


  3. says:

    My obligatory initial conditions/specs are: problem with help library manager (help viewer 1.0) in Visual Studio 2010 Pro being installed on Windows 7 x64 Ultimate w/pre-installed SQL 2008 Dev Ed.

    It is incredibly evil that I am not provided any reason why I must reinstall the ENTIRE freagin SQL server, in order to get to the last part that is failing over and over (the product documentation).  Anyhow, when I finally got to the button to 'Install Product Documentation', I was getting "Unable to open this Internet Shortcut.  The protocol "ms-xhelp" does not have a registered program."  

    There is a lot of junk on the net about that prob elsewhere.  One great genius suggested that he's had great success uninstalling VS, all other things that might be interfering, and then reinstalling VS.  Wow.  Why not just start over with a new computer, right?  Heck, since you've got that much time on your hands, lets just go ahead and … ok.  Back to this saga.  This fix is much faster than that.

    I found a solution as follows:  When I attempted to open Help Settings from inside VS, the first thing it does is prompt me for a path to my help files.  It is pre-populated with "C:ProgramDataMicrosoftHelpLibrary" which does not exist.  I browsed and found that there was another folder located very close to this (at "C:ProgramDataMicrosoft Help") which already had lots and lots of help stuff, and thus I selected that as the path.  At this point, the Help Manager finally (for the very first time) finished loading to the splash screen with options to install a local copy from disk.  This of course allowed me to browse to the "productDocumentationHelpContentSetup.msha" file on my VS 2010 DVD (actually an ISO set to auto-mount at the inevitable reboot), which completed successfully.

  4. says:

    Welp.  Don't I feel foolish.  My above steps fixed some things, but not others.  Ugh.

  5. Doug says:

    This is all well and ood but if your internet connection drops out the next time you do the update it starts from the very begining again, the files should be available for download.