Microsoft Access Help System Tips

Last updated 2010/09/27

Much of the detail on this page applies to Access 97 and earlier help.  A lot will still work with the HTML format in Access 2000 and newer but some details will be incorrect.   See the MOD2000 and ACC2000 KB articles at the bottom of this page. In particular David Liske's HTML Help with Access page has been updated for A2000.

I'm no expert help file author. But I'm a darned good and exceedingly lazy programmer! <grin>

Don't even think of using the MS Help Workshop. Don't go there. Don't get into all the stuff. You don't need to. What little I've seen of all that stuff is that its ugly beyond belief.

For a list of a third party help system visit HelpMaster. This will save you many, many hours of fiddling inside the Help stuff and learning things.

Several years ago I used Easyhelp and used their product inside Word 97. I did a 100 page manual in a weekend using this software. This included learning how to use the help system and Easyhelp. Mind you all I've got is Topics and Links. Not using any fancy stuff.

The tech support for the one question I had was very good.

You will want to download the full version which includes the 32 bit help compiler or you can download the partial version and then download the latest version of the help compiler from Microsoft.

Oh, and you'll want to use styles in Word for all your section and sub headings.

The process.

Everything works from the Context IDs. You define those in your help system. You also define those on your Access forms. (Hopefully there's a one to one match on them and you haven't screwed up. I wrote some routines to check the context IDs of all the forms and save them to a table so I could double check how they were all organized.) I am too lazy to do the context IDs on a control by control basis.

You will also need to define the compiled help table name in the Access forms. You're best off using the same directory for your application/front end MDB/MDE as your help file.

Menu Bar

I wanted to add a menu item which the user could click to go to the table of contents in the help system. The only way I found was to add a macro with the single line in it "RunApp" with the command line "winhlp32.exe (insert name of your help file here).hlp".

If all you need is open the help file at the default topic, then you can use Shell API and pass it the help file path. Shell CurrentProject.Path & "\<helpfilename>.chm" (or .hlp if the old format). That should open your help file, but you'll have to disable the Access Help command button and add your own custom one. See This would be equivalent to double-clicking on the help file.

WinHelp API

Running your help instead of Access's when distributing apps via the ODE

You will need the the following in the registry key setup in the ODE:

Top Level for Key: $(Machine's Software Key for App)  
Path to Key: Run-Time Options  
Value Name: AppHelpFile  
Base Value Data on File: D:\1ACCESS\volstar\volman.hlp path\file on your system
Value Data: $(FilePath)\volman.hlp relative path\file on their system.  Same as what you entered for the help file name in the forms Help File property

I also included the .GID and .FTS file in the distribution although Access will build them automatically.


Microsoft's Help on Help Files

OFFXPDEV: Custom Help File Is Displayed in Access Help Window - 275117

MOD2000: How to Create Context Sensitive HTML Help Files - 242433
MOD2000: How to Start a Custom Help File in a Run-Time Solution - 242433
MOD2000: Custom Help File Displayed in Access Help Window - 271390

ODE97: Tips for Creating and Compiling Your Windows Help File - 171958
ODE97: Step-by-Step Example of Creating/Compiling a Help File - 175491
ODE97: Help Workshop Help Topics Contents - 163939
ACC97: Displaying Context-Sensitive Help for What's This Button - 177107
ACC97: How to Programmatically Display a Help File - 271390
ACC2000: How to Programmatically Display a Help File - 209843
Note: I would use the third method using API calls in the above two KB articles as there are too many version problems should you want to distribute the Common Dialog Control.


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