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How to read or convert MS-DOS' Help Files (.HLP) in Windows XP ?

Posted on 2006-04-27
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Last Modified: 2012-06-27
I have some MS-DOS' Help Files (.HLP) I need to read/view (or to convert to other extension in order to read and/or edit)... However, when I click on them it appears a window (message box) saying "X.hlp is a DOS help file". How I can read it in Windows XP ?
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Question by:asgarcymed
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LVL 11

Expert Comment

by:grsteed
ID: 16557070
Here's a link to some Help file editors.

http://www.thefreecountry.com/programming/helpauthoring.shtml

When I open a .hlp file on my XP pro machine, it opens up what looks like a Windows Help box.
The files are binary so they would need converting to edit.


Cheers,

Gary
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Expert Comment

by:grsteed
ID: 16557136
Here's a sample from my PC.

http://members.cruzio.com/~steed/images/helpfile.jpg

Do you have anything defined under HKEY_CLASSES_ROOT for .hlp in your registry?


Gary

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Author Comment

by:asgarcymed
ID: 16557524
grsteed - here are my registry entries :


Windows Registry Editor Version 5.00

[HKEY_CLASSES_ROOT\hlpfile]
@="Help File"

[HKEY_CLASSES_ROOT\hlpfile\DefaultIcon]
@=hex(2):25,00,53,00,79,00,73,00,74,00,65,00,6d,00,52,00,6f,00,6f,00,74,00,25,\
  00,5c,00,53,00,79,00,73,00,74,00,65,00,6d,00,33,00,32,00,5c,00,73,00,68,00,\
  65,00,6c,00,6c,00,33,00,32,00,2e,00,64,00,6c,00,6c,00,2c,00,32,00,33,00,00,\
  00

[HKEY_CLASSES_ROOT\hlpfile\shell]

[HKEY_CLASSES_ROOT\hlpfile\shell\open]

[HKEY_CLASSES_ROOT\hlpfile\shell\open\command]
@=hex(2):25,00,53,00,79,00,73,00,74,00,65,00,6d,00,52,00,6f,00,6f,00,74,00,25,\
  00,5c,00,53,00,79,00,73,00,74,00,65,00,6d,00,33,00,32,00,5c,00,77,00,69,00,\
  6e,00,68,00,6c,00,70,00,33,00,32,00,2e,00,65,00,78,00,65,00,20,00,25,00,31,\
  00,00,00

 
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LVL 2

Expert Comment

by:wgenglan
ID: 16557672
I believe that the .HLP file can be opened by a program from MS-DOS
call HELP.EXE, (or HELP.COM) that is a part of MS-DOS.  According to
this link,

http://www.computerhope.com/helphlp.htm

HELP.EXE is supposed to be included in Windows XP, so I believe that
you should be able to right click the .HLP file, choose Open With...,
then browse to find HELP.EXE in either the Windows folder, or the Windows\System32
folder.  

I've done this to access .HLP files when trying to make a USB drive bootable, and
it worked as I was working on getting the system files installed to the drive.

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Expert Comment

by:wgenglan
ID: 16557711
Another method might be to use the Run... dialog and type HELP <filename>
where <filename> is the complete path to the .HLP file.  
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LVL 11

Expert Comment

by:grsteed
ID: 16558158
Help.exe is used to access the information and help file from a MS-DOS prompt for help with MS-DOS commands not to open .hlp files.

According that reg key it uses %SystemRoot%\System32\winhlp32.exe to open .hlp files.

Here's another shareware program that will convert .hlp to .rtf. You should be able to view them that way. I don't know if this will let you edit them and save back to .hlp though.

http://www.sharewareconnection.com/windows-hlp-to-rtf.htm


Here's another possibility from this link http://www.ericphelps.com/batch/basics/index.htm

"Windows 95/98 Batch Help:   You may wonder why you can't find DOS command help by using the Help icon on the Start menu. I wonder too. But if you get the missing "OldDos" commands, you'll get the HELP command. You can find the OldDos commands on your Windows 9x CDROM in the \Other\Oldmsdos directory or from:
ftp://ftp.microsoft.com/Products/Windows/Windows95/CDRomExtras/OtherUtilities/olddos.exe
ftp://ftp.microsoft.com/softlib/mslfiles/olddos.exe
You should know the "Help.com" command requires use of the "Qbasic.exe" and "Help.hlp" files as well. Other useful DOS commands are winset.exe and shortcut.exe. Winset lets you set environment variables globally (they persist once your batch file ends). Shortcut lets you make and modify shortcuts from the command line. You'll find both of these together as "envars.exe" on your CDROM under \Admin\Apptools\Envvars or from Microsoft at:
ftp://ftp.microsoft.com/Products/Windows/Windows95/CDRomExtras/AdministrationTools/ApplicationTools/envars.exe
"

Cheers,


Gary
0
 

Author Comment

by:asgarcymed
ID: 16559619
grsteed - the shareware application " Windows HLP To RTF" (from http://www.sharewareconnection.com/windows-hlp-to-rtf.htm) only converts Windows' HLP not MS-DOS' HLP files (to read Windows' HLP I just need to click on them; my problem is to read MS-DOS' HLP files, because when I click on them I get a window (message box) saying "X.hlp is a DOS help file").

The file help.com (from ftp://ftp.microsoft.com/Products/Windows/Windows95/CDRomExtras/OtherUtilities/olddos.exe) only can read the file help.hlp (help about all MS-DOS' commands). It does not read other HLP files...  

Regards.
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LVL 3

Accepted Solution

by:
Saurabh Dua earned 600 total points
ID: 16560438
Decompiling Existing HLP Files

http://download.jgsoft.com/helpscribble/helpdc21.zip

 The WinHelp decompiler is a freeware application written by Manfred Winterhoff.


If this is not for ur DOs HLP file , u can use a DOS app:

http://www.mgroeber.de/dos.htm

Helpmake, Helpread

    Helpmake is a compiler and Helpread a decompiler for Borland's TurboHelp files. The latter were help files that used to be distributed with Borland's DOS compilers. It comes with sources, and supports THELP up to version 2.1. Note that the documentation is in German only. However, since the source code is included, it shouldn't be too difficult to figure out how to use it.


Another one :
HelpDeco v.2.1      FW       217 k       31 Jan 1997
By M. Winterhoff. DOS command line utility (runs from Windows 95 or Windows NT command line as 32-bit application to handle larger help files) that dissects HLP help files of Windows 3.0, 3.1, 3.11, and '95 and many MVB multi media viewer titles into all files required for a rebuild using the appropriate help compiler HC30, HC31, HCP, HCW, HCRTF, WMVC, MMVC or MVC.
 
Fully functional: http://www.torry.net/tools/help/helpdeco/helpdc21.zip

See thhis for more info:
http://www.helpscribble.com/decompiler.html
http://www.thefreecountry.com/programming/helpauthoring.shtml
http://www.torry.net/pages.php?id=485

Else:

In ancient DOS time there was no MS-defined HLP file format.    
Every program had its own reader for its own help files.    
Just open your DOS .HLP file with notepad and look into it for    
the content. Maybe it is readable. Maybe its scrambled or    
compressed or something else. Then you need to install a DOSBOX    
and run the appropriate program.  
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Author Comment

by:asgarcymed
ID: 16560632
saurabh_dua - are you really sure that «In ancient DOS time there was no MS-defined HLP file format. Every program had its own reader for its own help files.» ?
I think DOSBox is a good possibility, but there are some DOS hlp files I have without any exe/com attached to it.
Let's see if someone can say more things, but let me thank you for your help!  
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LVL 3

Expert Comment

by:Saurabh Dua
ID: 16560926
Yes, I'm sure of that, as in DOS, edit.com has it's own edit.HLP file, but it can be invoked only from EDIT.com's Hrlp menu, not by double click in windows.

If it's a DOS HLP file, search for the exe\com , there should be one..
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Author Comment

by:asgarcymed
ID: 16560986
saurabh_dua - So is that reason that explains the inexistence of applications to deal with MS-DOS' HLP files ?
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LVL 3

Expert Comment

by:Saurabh Dua
ID: 16560996
yes exactly.., that's the precise reason..
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Author Comment

by:asgarcymed
ID: 16561083
OK, thank you. DOSBox is a good solution when possible.
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