What Is a Toggle?

Toggle is a digital magazine that highlights the vital role technology plays in companies across the spectrum of industries and the men and women who make it work. The publication focuses on the unique challenges that today’s IT leaders face and how they are navigating the constantly changing landscape.

A toggle is a switch that has two states: on and off. It’s a simple but important user-interface element that appears in almost every form of software that allows users to set options or preferences. Toggles are also found in hardware devices like phones and tablets and in physical objects, such as cordlocks, for stopping a drawstring or a cord.

The most common use of toggles is for switching between different views or modes in applications and websites. Toggle switches can be used to change the view from a map to a stream, for example, or to move between different camera angles in an exhibit.

A key benefit of using toggles is that they can provide immediate results. This is a big advantage over more traditional form elements such as checkboxes and radio buttons, which require users to click a Save or Confirm button before the new state takes effect. Toggles can also be used to show and hide information as a user navigates through an application, for example showing or hiding search functionality based on whether the user is searching for a specific word or not.

Another reason that toggles are popular is that they can help with accessibility. Many checkboxes and radio buttons rely on color to convey meaning, but there are many users who have red/green color blindness and don’t get the same meaning from these conventions. Similarly, many designers rely on text labels to convey toggles’ state, but there are users with impaired vision who can’t read or perceive these labels.

Finally, a toggle can be helpful for things like experimentation and A/B testing. A Toggle Router can be configured to consistently send a given user down one of many code paths at runtime based on their cohort, making it easier to measure the effects of different versions of an interface or a product feature.

When used correctly, toggles are a powerful tool that can be a great way to enable continuous improvement and speed up the rate at which features are released. However, they must be carefully considered and well managed to prevent technical debt building up in the codebase. Savvy teams view the Feature Toggles in their codebase as inventory that comes with a carrying cost and seek to keep this overhead low by being proactive about removing toggles when they are no longer needed. Some teams even have a policy of adding a task to the backlog to remove toggles when they are first introduced and others add “expiration dates” to their toggles so that they will be removed automatically at some point in the future.

Toggles can be a useful way to manage complexity in your application but only when they are simple and clear to use. To make toggles usable they should be clearly labeled, ideally with no more than one or two words, and they should always have a clear, consistent visual style that can be applied to all instances of the toggle. If they can’t be made cognitively obvious and immediately accessible then it might be better to replace them with a standard form element such as a checkbox or radio button.