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Written by: ronen ariely
22/05/2016 18:29 RssIcon


As of SQL Server 2012, SQL Server Management Studio setup installs the utility tool named "Microsoft Help Viewer" and related components for managing Help settings. Setup does not directly install any documentation. All of the SQL Server documentation is available online. In spite of the name, you can download them for offline use, as well.

Microsoft Help Viewer is a small free offline utility tool, which is used by different Microsoft's applications and technologies, in order to manage Help content. For example it is used by SQL Server Management Studio (both for SQL Server help content and for SSMS help content), Visual Studio, and so on. It is automatically installed once we install one of these applications. Installation instructions will vary based on which product installed the Help Viewer, but once it is installed we can use it for all other applications. Potentially, This will become the next general help system for Windows.

Installing Microsoft SQL Server 2016 Book-online for offline use

Step 1: download and install the latest version of SSMS

Seems like Microsoft changes their approach regarding releasing SQL Server Management Studio as of version 2016. The SSMS utilities tool is not released together with the SQL Server installation file. It's now available free for everyone online and it's works with all supported versions of SQL Server (From SQL Server 2008 to SQL Server 2016). In addition, it provides support for working with the latest cloud features in Azure SQL Database.

Download link: https://msdn.microsoft.com/en-us/library/mt238290.aspx

You can notice that while you install SSMS 2016, the Visual Studio 2015 Isolated Shell installed.
Visual Studio 2015 Shell
* VS 15 preview installs the Microsoft Help Viewer version 2.3
SSMS 2016 uses VS 2015, which installs the Microsoft Help Viewer version 2.2.
* VS 2013 installs the Microsoft Help Viewer version 2.1.
* VS 2012 installs the Microsoft Help Viewer version 2.0.
* SSMS 2012, 2014 uses VS 2010, which installs the Microsoft Help Viewer version 1.1.

Step 2.1: Open Microsoft Help Viewer Directly

By default Help Viewer x.x installed at "C:\Program Files (x86)\Microsoft Help Viewer\vx.x". As mentioned above SSMS 2016 uses v2.2 by default. In order to open the Help Viewer we cannot just double click on the exe file, since we need to pass some parameters (there is no default and double click will raise error).

Help Viewer Missing Parameters

In order to open the Help Viewer we have to open specific catalog

  • Click Run
  • Execute the command: 
    "C:\Program Files (x86)\Microsoft Help Viewer\v2.2\HlpViewer.exe" /catalogName SSMS16

 * In order to find all the Catalog names that are currently installed you can go to the operating system registry key. This can be useful in order to find catalog names for other applications including other versions of SSMS.
For example I have VS 15 preview installed at this time, and I can find the catalog name at
And Now I can open the Help Viewer with this command:
"C:\Program Files (x86)\Microsoft Help Viewer\v2.3\HlpViewer.exe" /catalogName VisualStudio15

* If you want to use the Book-Online for learning and not just as helper for the SSMS, I highly recommend to create a shortcut for the commend above. This will give you a fast and easy way to directly open the BOL.  

Step 2.2: Open Microsoft Help Viewer through the SSMS

* In the current SSMS version (April 2016 preview), when we click on F1 or if we select "Help" -> "View Help" in order to get help, instead of opening the Help Viewer, SSMS opens the download page in the browser, even if the Help Viewer already installed! It seems like a bug.

The simplest way to open it is from the client application that we need the help for.

Open SSMS -> Select "Help" -> click on "Add and Remove Help Content"
Addand Remove Help Content

Step 3: Installing the Book-Online

Move to the tab "Manage Content" -> Select the installation source: "Online" -> in the filter documentation box write "SQL Server" (without quotation marks)

Help Viewer Manage Content

Select the content that you want to read offline. 

I recommend to add:

  • SQL Server 2016 Technical Documentation
    * This is actually the new BOL for SQL Server 2016
  • Tutorials for SQL Server 2016
    * There are great tutorials including samples
  • Book Online
    * It is HIGHLY confusing :-( this actually installed the old full version of the SQL Server 2012 Book-Online, but I recommend to install it as well.


I hope this blog is useful :-)
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