Online help & documentation publishing tool
image:help-server-icons.png

Help Server is ASP.NET application exposing content of .Chm and .HxS help files on the web allowing users all over the world to browse them online. Help Server user interface is quite similar to built-in Windows Help, so almost anyone knows how to use it efficiently.

Features

Brings more visitors to your web site

  • Your help will be available to all the spiders and crawlers. They are automatically provided with ‘scriptless’ version of TOC. This ensures the whole help will be indexed.

Makes your visitors happier

  • Professional help browser adds valuable mark to overall user experience. Help Server brings well-known user interface to the web charging it with AJAX. It is compatible with all leading browsers, including Internet Explorer, Firefox and Chrome.
  • Keyword index and full-text search relying on Lucene.Net allow users to get the help faster.

Integration

  • You’re still thinking how to integrate help into your web application, conceptual documentation or Wiki? Help Server provides URL API allowing to navigate to a specified topic, keyword or full-text search result. Check out DataObjects.Net Wiki for examples of such integration.
  • Help Server UI is built with a set of its own ASP.NET controls. All these controls as well as all .aspx pages using them are shipped with full source code, so it’s possible to customize almost any part of UI. The only closed part is HelpEngine used by these controls – it’s shipped as a set of assemblies.

 

Customization

  • Logo and all visible strings and messages are fully customizable (some of such for licensed users only)
  • 2 skins are bundled into installation package: one is similar to new MSDN Library Viewer (grey), another is close to Office 2007 (blue)
  • Config.xml file allows to join multiple .Chm, .HxS and HTML files into the global table of contents.

High availability

  • Help Server provides HTTP caching headers allowing browsers to aggressively cache help content. This positively affects both on user experience and web server load.
  • Zero downtime on updates of help files in the runtime, or the whole collection of them! Such updates may continue for many hours – client will be able to browse old help collections until it’s finished, and will notice the update only by tree refresh on the next subsequent request. The moment of help update completion is determined automatically by a delay passed after last update in ‘Resources’ folder.
  • Extremely large help collections are supported. Our own help contains about 50000 topics, and it easily handles it. Browsing a collection of 100000-1000000 documents shouldn’t be a problem at all.

Help Server versus plain HTML help files

So why it’s better to use Help Server rather than to publish HTML files from which help is built? Let’s look on just some of benefits:

  • Table of contents can be very large in large help collections. Imagine delivery of 1Mb table of contents to the client via slow connection! Currently plain HTML + no AJAX = worse user experience.
  • Full-text search and keyword index aren’t provided by HTML help generators, or their support is quite poor: some of them provide client-side implementation on JavaScript, which in fact isn’t suitable for large help files.
  • Help Server ensures there will be no downtime at all on any help updates. Downtime of web site showing online help on updates of help collection is obviously anticipated by users.
  • It’s much faster and convenient to copy\replace just a single compressed .Chm or .HxS file rather than replace 10000 flat HTML files – especially when web site is hosted on a distant server. Few thousands of small files may take hours to get uploaded. Also note that compression factor is usually near 90% for help files.
  • It’s more convenient to deal with user interface you already know – Help Server UI is almost a clone of MSDN Library Viewer.
  • There are certainly lots of other factors. For example, Help Server UI looks better than the same provided by all HTML help generators we know.

Screenshots

Help Server screenshots


There are certainly some other factors, for example, Help Server UI should look better than the same provided by most of HTML help generators.

System Requirements

To use Help Server you should have the following components installed:

  • .NET Framework 3.5
  • IIS 6.0+ with ASP.NET 3.5

Usage examples

Version 3.0: DataObjects.Net online help, PostSharp documentation
Previous versions: Genome documentation

Useful links

Online web help: industry standards, help browsers, converters and help authoring tools
Wikipedia: Comparison of documentation generators
Wikipedia: Help authoring tools