What Is a Toggle?

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A toggle is a control that changes between two states, such as an ON or OFF switch. Toggles are preferred over radio buttons because they take up less screen real estate and have pre-selected default states (ON or OFF). They can be a better fit than checkboxes for settings or preferences that don’t require user choice.

The word toggle derives from a pin passed transversely through the eye or loop of a rope to bind it temporarily. It has since become a term for any type of on-and-off fastener. In software it is used for control systems and menu items that are either active or inactive. For example, the keys on a keyboard that turn the Caps Lock and Num Lock functions ON or OFF are toggles. The same concept is also reflected in options menus of most apps where each item can be enabled or disabled through a toggle.

The visual cues for a toggle should be clear and unambiguous to ensure users can easily recognize which state the control is in. A primary visual indicator is color, but designers should consider the societal and cultural implications of choosing colors for toggle states. One common misjudgement is using a low-contrast color, such as gray, for the inactive state. It performs worse than a more pronounced or saturated color and should be avoided whenever possible. It is also best to avoid using embossment as the main cue and rely on other visuals instead, such as bold-thin combinations or font size differences.