Force the help system to update help files

After upgrading to iLife ’09, I found that iPhoto ’09’s help files seemed woefully out of date. If I activated help (Help -> iPhoto Help) and then searched for faces, for instance, Help would tell me “no matches found.” On the other hand, if I used the Search box under the Help menu within iPhoto and searched for faces, five matches would appear. I could then select any of those matches, and that topic would open in Help. I couldn’t, however, click any other links on the page that appeared—I’d get a message about no topics found, and that I should check my internet connection.

Clearly my Mac’s help system wasn’t quite working right—it wasn’t entirely broken, but information that should be there simply wasn’t appearing. Help, as it turns out, needed some help.

Way back in 2004, Chris Breen wrote about some possible fixes for a truly broken Help system, one that wouldn’t even launch. Although this didn’t cover my exact problem, one of the fixes he discusses in that article—trashing Help’s cache folder—also fixed my “not broken but clearly not working right” Help system.

To force the iPhoto help files to update, I first quit iPhoto and switched to the Finder. I then opened my user’s Library -> Caches folder. One of the folders in the Caches folder is named com.apple.helpui; I dragged that folder into the trash and relaunched iPhoto. Bingo, problem solved—searching on faces within Help itself now works perfectly, as do all the links within the Help system.

Help relies heavily on cache files to present its information to the user. For reasons unknown to me, it seems to have more trouble with cache than most OS X applications, and those problems can manifest themselves in any number of ways. As noted by the date on Chris’ article, these issues have existed for quite a while, and seemingly still exist today.

So the generic version of today’s hint is that if your Help system is behaving incorrectly—whether the problem is that it crashes at launch, it runs extremely slowly, or it doesn’t seem to contain data that you’re fairly certain should be there—try trashing the cache folder as a first step. More often than not, that will probably solve the problem. (You shouldn’t ever fear trashing a cache folder, because they’ll be automatically recreated as necessary.)

If trashing the cache folder doesn’t fix the problem, Chris’ original article also has some other suggested fixes.

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