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Volume 9, Issue 2


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Customizing the Help Browser
Pavi Sandhu


The Help Browser provides convenient access to all of Mathematica's online documentation. You can browse through a hierarchy of topics or search for information on a specific keyword. You can also edit and evaluate the examples or print any topic displayed in the Help Browser, just like in a notebook.

A little-known feature of the Help Browser is that you can customize it. You can add your own reference material to the existing help files, add your own keywords to the Master Index, or set up hyperlinks between different categories of the Help Browser. You can even change the names and number of the buttons at the top of the Help Browser

These types of changes are useful if you are creating an add-on package or a custom application. You can then integrate your documentation into the Help Browser. This article provides detailed information on the structure of the Help Browser's files and the steps needed to modify them.

All information to be displayed in the Help Browser must be stored in the form of notebooks inside the Documentation directory in the Mathematica layout. The Documentation directory can contain several subdirectories, each with the name of a specific language. For example, all documentation in English should be placed in the Documentation/English directory.

The Documentation/English directory in turn contains five subdirectories, each corresponding to a specific button in the Help Browser:

  • AddOns
  • Demos
  • GettingStarted
  • MainBook
  • OtherInformation
  • RefGuide
  • Tour

In addition to the notebooks containing the help material, each of these directories must contain its own copy of the following two files:

  • BrowserCategories.m--This is a plain text file that specifies the categories to be displayed in the Browser window.
  • BrowserIndex.nb--This is a notebook that specifies the entries that should appear in the Master Index.

To add new reference material to the Help Browser:

1. Place the notebooks containing the new material inside the AddOns subdirectory of the Documentation/English directory.

2. Organize the material into a set of topics and subtopics corresponding to the categories that you want displayed in the Help Browser.

3. Add descriptive cell tags to the reference material to identify the cells that will be displayed under each category.

4. Edit the BrowserCategories.m file to create the categories that will appear in the Browser window. You should first save a copy of the existing BrowserCategories.m file in the same location under a different name, in case you need to revert to it later.

5. Edit the BrowserIndex.nb file to specify the keywords that will appear in the Help Browser's Master Index.

Specific details on each of these steps is provided in the rest of this article.

Note: Each time you modify any of the help files, you should click the Help RightTriangle Rebuild Help Index menu command for your changes to take effect.

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