Other names: Tabbed interface

Tabbed interfaces are a way of navigating between multiple panels, reducing clutter and fitting more into a smaller space.

Updated September 23rd, 2019

2 minute read

82 examples


A tabbed interface consists of two key parts:

  • the tab list containing the tab elements, along the top or side of…
  • the tab panels which contain the content.

Each tab panel has an associated tab in the tab list, that when activated, displays the panel. Only one panel of content is shown at any one time.

Tabs are an example of an interface metaphor, named after the tabs attached to the top of folders used inside filing cabinets. Each tab is given a label based on the documents inside its corresponding folder. Like their real-world namesake tabbed interfaces allow a user to see the outline of a larger set of data at a glance and quickly navigate to the desired section.


Here is example markup based on the W3C recommended accessible markup for tabs. It describes a set of two tabs, with the first one selected:

<!-- Tabs -->
<div role="tablist" aria-orientation="horizontal">
    Tab 1
    Tab 2
<!-- Tab panels -->
<div id="tab-panel-1" role="tabpanel" aria-labelledby="tab-1">
  <h2>Tab panel 1 content</h2>
  style="display: none;"
  <h2>Tab panel 2 content</h2>

To communicate the semantic meaning and current state of each element to assistive technology, it makes extensive use of aria attributes:

  • Use role="tab" on each tab element and role="tablist" on the tab list.
  • Give each tab panel role="tabpanel".
  • If the tabs are vertically oriented (stacked one on top of the other), give the tab list the attribute aria-orientation="vertical" (If your tabs are oriented horizontally, you can leave this attribute out as horizontal is the default).
  • If the tab list has a visible label, link it to the label with aria-labelledby="{labelId}". Alternatively, the tab list should be labelled using the aria-label attribute.
  • Each tab should have the attribute aria-controls="{tabPanelId}" linking it to the associated tab panel.
  • The active tab should have aria-selected set to true and all other tabs should have it set to false.
  • Each tab panel should have aria-labelledby="{tabId}" to link it with its associated tab element.


When styling your tabs, you can make use of the aria-selected attribute to style the active tab differently. e.g.

.tab[aria-selected='true'] {
  background-color: var(--active-tab-bg-color);
  color: var(--active-tab-text-color);
  font-weight: bold;

Ensure each tab also has a visible :focus state.

To show/hide the tab panels you will need to toggle the CSS display property between display: none; and a visible value such as display: block;.


In addition to aria attributes on your HTML elements, to make a tabbed interface keyboard-accessible, you’ll also need to add some custom keybindings1:

  • Tab: When tabbing into the tab list, place focus on the active tab element. When focus is on a tab inside the tab list, pressing tab should move focus to the next focusable element in the page outside the tab list.
  • Space or Enter should activate the currently focused tab if it wasn't activated automatically on focus.
  • and to cycle between tabs when aria-orientation="vertical".
  • and to cycle between tabs when aria-orientation="horizontal".

Caveat: although this is a widely used method for making tabbed interfaces keyboard accessible, some users may not be familiar it; a component that is simpler to interact with (such as an accordion) may be more suited to your specific use case.

Usage guidelines

  • The main benefit of tabs is that they allow a large amount of information to be displayed in a limited space.

  • Be conscious that when you’re using tabs, you’re hiding content. This not only makes it less discoverable for sighted users, but also for users of assistive technology like screen readers.

  • If you're laying out your tabs horizontally, think about how they will appear at narrower screen widths — will they need to stack vertically or will you be better off swapping out the tabs for a different component (e.g. an accordion)?