Tip 196: Using the Common Dialog Control to Invoke Context-Sensitive Help
December 5, 1995
The Common Dialog control in Microsoft? Visual Basic? allows you to invoke
Help immediately and does not require that you use a dialog box. This
article explains how to use the Common Dialog control to access specific
Microsoft Windows? Help files.
Accessing Context-Sensitive Help
Most Microsoft? Windows? users know they can get Help at any time by
pressing the F1 function key. When F1 is detected, Windows activates its
WinHelp application. This application then displays Help information for
the item located under the mouse pointer. This form of contextual user
assistance is called context-sensitive Help.
You can easily add this technique to your own Microsoft Visual Basic?
applications. Tip 15: Creating a List of Directories Stored on a Disk
contains a full discussion of using the Windows application programming
interface (API) WinHelp function; but in this case, you will use the
Common Dialog control to access Help. It is sometimes preferable to use
the Help function of the Common Dialog control rather than using the
WinHelp function itself. The Common Dialog control allows you to invoke
Help immediately and does not require that you use a dialog box.
In the example program below, you use the Common Dialog control to call up
the Windows WinHelp application. To do this, you need only to set the
Action property of the Common Dialog control to a value of 6. This tells
the control that you want to access the Windows WinHelp application.
Next, you set the HelpKey property of the Common Dialog control to the
text with which you want to invoke Help. This is the word or phrase you
typed in the Text Box control.
Finally, you set the HelpCommand property of the Common Dialog control to
HELP_KEY. This allows us to perform a context-sensitive search in the Help
This program shows how to access a Windows Help file based on a specific
string in a Text Box control.
1. Create a new project in Visual Basic. Form1 is created by default.
2. Add the following constants to the General Declarations section of
Const KEY_F1 = &H70
Const HELP_KEY = &H101
3. Add the following code to the Form_Load event for Form1:
Private Sub Form_Load()
KeyPreview = True
CommonDialog1.HelpFile = "c:\vb\vb.hlp"
4. Add the following code to the Form_KeyDown event for Form1:
Private Sub Form_KeyDown(KeyCode As Integer, Shift As Integer)
If KeyCode = KEY_F1 Then
If TypeOf Me.ActiveControl Is TextBox Then
If ActiveControl.SelText <> "" Then
CommonDialog1.HelpKey = ActiveControl.SelText
CommonDialog1.HelpCommand = HELP_KEY
CommonDialog1.Action = 6
MsgBox "Error - no phrase was selected to get help for"
KeyCode = 0
MsgBox "The Text Box must have the focus"
5. Add a Text Box control to Form1. Text1 is created by default.
6. Add a Common Dialog control to Form1. CommonDialog1 is created by
Run the example program by pressing F5. Type some text in the Text Box
control, such as "We need help on the CommonDialog Control right now."
Highlight the phrase "CommonDialog Control" in the Text Box control.
Press F1. The program displays the Help page for the Common Dialog
control. Note that if you attempt to invoke Help without first selecting
a word or phrase in the Text Box control, an error message appears. By the
same token, if the Text Box control does not have the focus when you press
F1, an error is generated.