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Explainer and demo for <std-switch>
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Latest commit acc97cb Jun 19, 2019

A standard 'Switch' form control



This document proposes a new HTML element for a 'switch' control. It is provided as a built-in module.

This proposal is intended to incubate in the WICG once it gets interest on its Discourse thread. After incubation, if it gains multi-implementer interest, it will graduate to the HTML Standard as a new standard HTML element.

Why a switch control?

Many UI frameworks have switch controls to represent off/on states and ask a user to change the state. As of April 2019 the HTML standard has a checkbox, which is functionally similar to switch control. However:

  • Semantically, a switch and checkbox have different meanings, with a switch being more appropriate for turning things on/off. (See e.g. Microsoft Fluent design guidelines, Nielsen Norman Group, UX Planet.)
  • Switches and checkboxes manifest differently to accessibility technology: see the switch ARIA role.
  • It's hard to change checkbox's appearance to a switch-like appearance, for when that user experience is desired.


  • Identical appearance on all platforms and all supported browsers by default (Issue #21)
  • Easy and flexible customization
    • The switch control should provide a way to switch its appearance from the default one to platform-dependent one.
    • The switch control should provide a way to customize color, size, radius, etc. of its visual parts.
  • API similar to existing form controls
  • Explore new ways of building HTML elements, including:

Sample code

<script type="module">
import 'std:elements/switch';

<form action="...">
  <label>Enable something <std-switch name="something"></std-switch></label>
  <input type="submit">

This shows something like:
Sample image

Users can turn on/off the switch by clicking it, and submitting the form will have an entry for the switch control.

Demo page

Proposed API

The element is provided as a built-in module. import 'std:elements/switch' defines <std-switch> element, and it can expose StdSwitchElement interface.

Content attributes:

TODO: Supports autofocus, which should be a global attribute. (whatwg/html#4563)

These attributes should work same as existing form controls.

<std-switch> should support on and defaulton attributes (Issue #2).

defaultOn property reflects on defaulton attribute value, and on property reflects on on attribute. Code like switch.on = true adds on attribute. We need to specify defaulton attribute if we want to reset the element to on state, like ``` (Issue #4)

Properties and functions

  • on - Represents the element's state. See the previous section

  • defaultOn - Represents the default state. See the previous section

  • disabled - Same as existing form controls

  • form - Same as existing form controls

  • labels - Same as existing form controls

  • name - Same as existing form controls

  • type - returns 'std-switch'

  • willValidate - Same as existing form controls

  • validationMessage - Same as existing form controls

  • checkValidity() - Same as existing form controls

  • reportValidity() - Same as existing form controls

  • setCustomValidity(errorMessage) - Same as existing form controls

Pseudo classes

  • Global ones such as :focus :hover :target
  • :valid - match if the element has no required attribute, of if the element has required attribute and the state is on.
  • :invalid - match if the element doesn't match to :valid.
  • :disabled - match if the element has disabled attribute, or an ancestor <fieldset> has disabled attribute.
  • :enabled - match if the element doesn't match to :disabled.

TODO: Supports :checked (Issue #3), :required, and :optional (w3c/webcomponents#813)


<std-switch> dispatches input and change events when a user changes the element's state.

Relationship with other elements

  • form
    Markup like <form>...<std-switch></std-switch>...</form> associates the <std-switch> element to the <form>. <form>'s elements property lists the <std-switch>, and submitting the <form> adds an entry for the <std-switch>.
  • fieldset
    Markup like <fieldset>...<std-switch></std-switch>...</fieldset> associates the <std-switch> element to the <fieldset>. <fieldset>'s elements property lists the <std-switch>, and disabling the <fieldset> also disables the <std-switch> implicitly.
  • label
    Markup like <label>...<std-switch></std-switch></label> associates the <std-switch> element to the <label>. Clicking anywhere in the <label> changes the state of the <std-switch>.

Form submission

There are two approaches. We have not decided yet. (Issue #15, Issue #5)

  • A) Compatible with <input type=checkbox>
    <std-switch name=something> with "off" state will send no entry. One with "on" state will send value attribute value if it exists, or something=on.
  • B) Send state simply
    <std-switch name=something> with "off" state will send something=off, one with "on" state will send something=on.

Appearance customization

TODO: an easy flag to enable platform-dependent appearance (Issue #6) When the flag is enabled, std-switch element is styled as UISwitch on iOS, Material Design switch on Android, Fluent design toggle switch on Windows.

TODO: Full customization. Shadow parts? CSS custom properties? (Issue #7)

Security and Privacy Considerations

There are no known security or privacy impacts of this feature. Security/privacy impact of this feature is same as <input type=checkbox>.

If the platform-dependent appearance is enabled, the origin can detect user's platform. However, that information is already exposed by navigator.platform.

Considered alternatives

Making <input type=checkbox> customizable

Providing a switch control as a variant of <input type=checkbox> would be possible. We can add switch content attribute, add switch keyword to appearance CSS property, or something.

However, as decribed in the 'Why a switch control?' section, using <input type=checkbox> for a switch control is semantically incorrect. Also, it would add complexity to UA implementations, and it's difficult to provide customization flexibility with a switch control implemented by these ways.

As a new global element (instead of a built-in module)

We would like to experiment with ways of making new HTML elements "pay for what you use". Instead of every page paying the cost of loading a switch implementation into memory as a global (e.g. window.HTMLSwitchElement), we want pages to opt in to using the switch control. The JavaScript module import system provides a convenient mechanism for this, which is also used by other APIs that share the same goals (such as KV Storage).

Note that although adding a global switch control implementation is a small step, it contributes to a tragedy of the commons, which makes it harder and harder to add new APIs and elements. Exploring an opt-in solution here opens the door to more sustainable growth overall.

Leaving this up to libraries

It is possible to continue requiring that web developers use a library to implement switches. We believe that the platform should instead provide a basic control such as a switch out of the box. Major modern UI platforms (e.g. Android, iOS, Windows, macOS) all provide switch controls, and the web should as well. The story for macOS is "use NSSwitch and you get a switch control." The story for the web should be similarly simple, instead of "use a checkbox, customize it with tons of CSS, and remember to change its ARIA role=""."


Why does the name have a dash in it?

The name <std-switch> is unusual compared to built-in HTML elements, none of which have a dash. A more natural choice might be <switch>, or perhaps <toggleswitch>.

The reason to include a dash in the name is to allow the element to be polyfillable, using custom elements. We'd like to experiment with moving away from the world where browsers get a special namespace that can never be polyfilled.

There are alternative ways of achieving this goal; for example, we could lift the dash restriction on custom element names. There is some more discussion in WICG/virtual-scroller#161. This is definitely subject to change as we continue to prototype.

Is this a custom element?

Not really. This is a proposal for a new built-in HTML element, similar to other new-ish elements like <details>, <dialog>, or the proposed <portal>. If it graduates from incubation successfully, it will become part of the HTML Standard.

The name does have a dash, as noted above. And the goal of allowing custom elements to perfectly polyfill <std-switch> will mean that <std-switch> behaves like a custom element in many ways. (As we proceed to writing a rigorous spec, those will be enumerated in detail.) Indeed, browsers may even choose to implement <std-switch> using custom elements under the hood. (Chromium plans to do so.) But in the end, this is a new element intended for the HTML Standard, meant to ship natively with browsers.

Will all browsers share code for the switch control?

This is a decision for individual browser vendors to make. Note that historically some parts of browser codebases are shared (e.g. Web Audio, RegExp engines, Web RTC) while many parts are implemented independently.

It will likely be easier to share code for <std-switch> than for <input type=checkbox>, because our goal of making it 100% polyfillable and layered means that it will depend on standardized web-exposed API concepts instead of hooking directly into internal implementation details. But in the end, this repository will only provide a specification, which can be implemented however makes most sense to individual browsers.

References & Acknowledgements

  • whatwg/html#4180 posted by Atishay Jain gave us a motivation to start this project.
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