What Is a Toggle?

A toggle is a switch that allows people to manage the state of something. Specifically, a toggle lets people choose between two opposing values that affect the state of content or a view. For example, you might use a toggle to select between streaming and map views when viewing a location on a Google map. If you need to support other types of actions that aren’t related to managing the state of content or a view, consider using another component instead of a toggle (like a button).

A toggle is typically used in conjunction with an option or preference list to enable users to easily navigate and manipulate the options. For instance, you might allow a user to toggle between multiple video stream perspectives when video chatting with friends. A physical toggle switch is also common in interfaces like computer keyboards where a user can toggle between different settings or programs such as Excel and the calculator.

In general the term “toggle” is used to describe a simple control that has two states: on and off. This type of switch can be found in almost every aspect of modern computing and is often associated with options or preference lists.

Toggles are a great tool for managing feature flags because they allow us to dynamically re-configure a specific service at runtime without having to restart the machine or re-deploy an artifact into a testing environment. This capability is critical to speeding up CI/CD processes as well as improving the feedback loop that drives faster iteration and more effective test coverage.

However, a toggle can introduce confusion and insufficient visibility into the system’s behavior when the underlying configuration isn’t properly managed. For example, some teams have a policy of adding a task to remove a toggle from the backlog every time a new release is deployed which can help minimize the number of toggles that are ever used in production. Other teams even go as far as to put expiration dates on their toggles in order to prevent the accidental re-enabling of expired features.

The most important consideration when designing a toggle is to ensure that it’s easy to understand immediately. In our research, the most successful toggles use clear visual cues to indicate their state. For example, we recommend using a more pronounced/saturated color to denote the active option and a lighter color to denote the inactive one. Additionally, we advise using descriptive labels for toggles that clearly communicate what each state will do when activated or deactivated.

Finally, we recommend leveraging platform-specific toggle styles as much as possible to reduce the risk of inconsistencies in the UI. For example, some platforms support the use of checkbox-like toggles while others support only standard switch styles. Use these styles when they are available to you, but make sure to use a standard toggle appearance across platforms so that the underlying configuration remains consistent. This will ensure that your users can be confident in their understanding of the underlying logic of your toggles.