Complicated applications need help systems so that those who use them have somewhere to turn when they get stuck. Fortunately, they needn't be difficult to build. This article explains how to create a help system for a Delphi application.
A week ago I wrote accounting software for a client that incorporated other software as well. Because of the size of the application, it required a help system. Usually I would just include a small text file to explain how things work, but for this system something a bit more sophisticated was called for. So I set about learning how to create a help system and found that it is actually really easy. So I decided to write and share this wonderful find with you lucky Delphi developers!
So why would any one need a help system for their applications? Well, it can be for a variety of reasons. Most applications that I've written did not require a full- fledged help system. Other applications will require a full-fledged help system, either because it is a big application with a lot of functionality that is not easy to master or to make it easy for the target audience to use the software if they are not so good with technology.
Tools you need
Delphi version 6 and higher. Microsoft Help Workshop (ships with Delphi) and a word processor (I will be using MS Word) that is capable of creating rich text format files.
The Help System
How much of the help system you want to implement is up to you and would depend on what kind of application you are writing. The help system that I am going to write for this article is going to have the following functionality:
A user must be able to find a topic through a keyword.
Users must be able to select a topic from a list of categories.
In addition, we will also take a look at how to use images and links within our help system.
To create a help file we have to walk through a series of steps, mainly because we are doing everything from scratch. We need the following files to start the process:
.rtf - This file will contain the actual text of the help file.
.hpj - This file will contain the project information for your help file.
.cnt - This file will contain a list of "chapters" and topics and will act as the content page of your help file.
.map - This file matches numeric values to the topicID.
So without further ado, start your Microsoft Help Workshop application (on my machine this application is located at C:Program FilesBorlandDelphi6HelpTools) and create a hpj file. You do this by going to File | New and then selecting "Help Project." You'll be asked to save the file, so save it as "MyHelpProjectFile.hlp" in a separate folder.