What Is a Toggle?

A toggle is a switch with two positions, either on or off. It’s a common visual element found in software and hardware settings such as options menus, the Caps Lock and Num Lock keys on keyboards, and the toggle switch on a television to alternate between channels.

The purpose of a toggle is to allow the user to update preferences, settings and other types of information. When used well, toggles are easy to use and deliver immediate results. However, when they’re misused, they can create confusion and can lead to poor user experiences.

Toggle switches should be clearly labeled and designed to look like sliders with a clear position indicator. It should also be visually differentiated from other controls and use high-contrast color to signal state change. Finally, it’s important to evaluate the societal and cultural implications of the colors you choose, as some colors may be counterintuitive or even offensive in different contexts. For example, using red as a toggle color can be confusing to users because it is often associated with stop signs and traffic lights in other parts of the world.

In most cases, a toggle is the right control when a user needs to decide between two opposing options. It’s preferable to a radio button and takes up less screen space than a checkbox. However, there are times when a toggle should be replaced with a more traditional form field such as a select box or radio button. In these cases, the use of a toggle switch can be perceived as a lack of trust by users who are used to being able to select and save their choices without additional action.

Toggles are a great way to perform multivariate or A/B testing. By leveraging a Toggle Router, we can consistently send the same user down one codepath or another, and then track the performance of each to determine which option is the most effective.

Managing toggle configuration via static files is cumbersome at scale and doesn’t allow for the ability to re-configure a toggle on a per-request basis. As a result many companies move their toggles into some type of centralized store, typically an application DB. This is paired with some form of admin UI so that system operators, testers and product managers can manage their configuration.