What Is a Toggle?

Toggle is a term that describes switching back and forth between settings or programs. For example, a user might toggle between a web browser and a word processor while working on a document. The term is also used in software to refer to a function that is initially disabled until it is enabled by a button click. This feature is a common part of the options menu in many applications. The toggle is a simple yet powerful control for changing an interface state.

When designers think about using toggles, they should take care to write clear labels that describe the option the toggle controls, as well as what state it is currently in. Toggle switches can be confusing if their labeling is unclear or unintuitive. For example, a switch that looks like this is not intuitive to understand: “Do you want to save your changes?” Unless there’s an obvious context to the question, it’s best to stick with simple and direct toggle labels, such as “On” or “Off.”

Another important consideration when designing a toggle is making sure that it is accessible to users who need more assistance. For example, some toggles use colors to distinguish their states. However, this can be problematic for users with red/green color blindness or who rely on screen readers. In general, designers should avoid using colors in toggles where possible, and if they do need to use them, be sure to include an explanation of the color coding in the tooltip or elsewhere in the UI.

In terms of implementation, there are a number of approaches to managing toggle configuration, from fairly simple to highly sophisticated. The most basic approach is to hardcode the toggle’s state into the code with a comment or preprocessor flag. This is relatively straightforward, but since it doesn’t allow for dynamic re-configuration of the toggle it’s typically only suitable for use with Ops Toggles or other low-traffic features where the toggling decision is static.

More sophisticated systems often manage toggle configuration via a database or some other form of centralized store. This allows for more dynamic re-configuration of the toggle and is often paired with some sort of admin UI to give product managers, testers and other users visibility into the current state of a particular toggle.

Finally, some systems may use a toggle to perform Multivariate or A/B testing. The toggle can be configured to consistently send each user down one or the other of a series of codepaths, then analyze the impact of each path on metrics such as conversion rates and customer satisfaction. The advantage of this type of testing is that it can be more effective than simply deploying new code into production in order to make a change to the product. However, this requires a significant commitment to the process of tracking and reporting on results.