What Is a Toggle?

A toggle is a piece of hardware that turns something on or off. For example, a toggle can be used to turn a light on or off or to change the volume on your television. A toggle can also refer to an online feature that allows you to switch between different options. For instance, you can toggle the option to view a blog in full-screen mode or in a compact window. Toggle can also refer to a user-interface element that lets you move between different options, such as radio buttons or checkboxes.

The word toggle originated in the 18th century as a pin that was passed through the eye of a rope or chain to secure it around a stay, mast or bight. Toggle is still used for this purpose, but the term has expanded to include a variety of functions, including switching between programs and settings on computers and other devices. The toggle is a popular choice for adjusting system settings or preferences, and it is especially effective on mobile devices.

When using toggles, it is important to consider their context and the users’ expectations for each state. For example, if the toggle is indicating whether or not an Airplane mode is ON or OFF, it would be better to use a checkbox instead of a toggle since the latter has a pre-selected default state (ON or OFF).

Toggle switches should be clear and direct with a well-defined label that describes what will happen when the toggle is in its current state. In addition, they should deliver immediate results and not require any additional steps or confirmations to take effect.

When selecting a visual cue for the toggle’s active state, a color scheme that distinguishes between a saturated and lighter shade performs best. However, this doesn’t mean that the toggle should always be a bright or dark color. In fact, when users were asked to rank the toggles they viewed, the dark gray toggle performed better than the saturated orange one in a 5-second test. However, when users were given more time to think about the toggles, the orange toggle surpassed the gray one in both error rate and confidence score.

Changing a toggle’s configuration should be straightforward, but some teams struggle with managing this complexity at scale. To address this challenge many organizations move the toggle configuration away from static files and into some type of centralized store, often an existing application DB. This enables the team to modify toggles with ease, while allowing product managers and testers to see all toggles at once.

Savvy teams view the number of toggles in their codebase as inventory that comes with a carrying cost and they strive to keep this inventory low. To do this, they have rules about adding toggle removal to their backlogs whenever they introduce a new toggle and create “expiration dates” for toggles that are no longer needed. This way, they can remove the toggle and roll out a new version without breaking any of their users’ functionality.