What Is a Toggle?

A toggle is a switch that can be in one of two states. It’s used in software to manage settings or views that may have a default state. Toggle switches are commonly seen in options menus, where each option can be turned on or off. Toggle switches are also used in physical devices, like the caps lock key on a keyboard, to turn on or off specific functions.

A graphical representation of a toggle is a circular button with two positions: on and off. When a toggle is active, it’s blue or red; when it’s inactive, it’s gray. In web and mobile design, toggles are often used for adjusting the visibility of content, such as turning stream or map views on and off. Toggles are a good choice when it’s important that users can quickly update a setting or view, and they can be more visually distinct than checkboxes and radio buttons.

When designing toggles, it’s important to clearly identify the setting or view that a toggle controls. This information can be conveyed by the surrounding context or by supplying a label that describes the toggle’s current state. It’s also helpful to use high-contrast colors and evaluate cultural implications when deciding on color signals for your toggles. For example, using red as an “on” indicator can be confusing for some users who associate the color with stop signs or traffic lights.

The word toggle comes from the Latin verb toggle, which means “switch.” In its 18th century definition, a toggle was a pin passed transversely through an eye or loop in a rope or chain to bind it temporarily. Today, the term refers to any fastener or switch that enables you to select two opposite states.

For example, the toggle on a car cigarette lighter allows you to switch between full and half power. You can also toggle the volume of a music player from loud to quiet, or turn on and off the GPS when driving. The ability to toggle between different modes and features of an app or device is essential for most people, whether they’re using their phones to text a friend or take pictures during a museum visit.

Although toggles can provide a simple and effective way to let users manage settings, it’s important to use them sparingly. They should be applied only when it’s important that users can quickly change a setting and that the changes have an immediate effect. Otherwise, consider alternative interface components that offer more flexibility and deliver similar results, such as checkboxes and radio buttons.