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Packaging Visual Studio Help Files

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If you are offering a commercial or open source library for .NET developers, including an integrated help file is a great way to show your professionalism. It can also be handy when working on a framework that is reused across a company’s internal applications.

In a recent article Jeff Braaten explains the process of creating Visual Studio Help Files. Individual Help files for Visual Studio 2010 RTM and SP1 are essentially XHTML files with special meta tags. These meta tags handle basic information such as the page’s language/locale, place in the table of contents, keywords, and F1 support. Jeff stresses that the pages will be read with .NET’s XmlReader class and thus must be well-formed XML compliant with XHTML Basic 1.1.

Loose pages are then grouped into book. Each book is comprised of a zip file containing all of the topic pages and a loose XHTML file that describes the book. Installing a book created in this fashion requires administrative access. If that isn’t acceptable you can then bundle the zip and description files into a signed CAB file. This will of course require obtaining a signing certificate.

A missing piece to this process is how to distribute it via package managers, especially Nuget. Administrative access for installs isn’t really acceptable but neither is requiring signed CAB file for what is essentially just documentation.

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