An enhanced textbox that allows free text input, selection from a predefined list of values, or a combination of both. Hence the name "combobox".
A combobox allows free text input and selection from a predefined list of values. It may optionally have autocomplete behaviour.
A readonly combobox (i.e. selection from a predefined list only) is often used as a custom facade for the HTML select element (which has limited styling capabilities with CSS). This guide, however, is primarily concerned with the editable version of the combobox.
Updated: June 17th, 2020
widget: the pattern as a whole, comprised of the following distinct parts
textbox: stores and displays the form value
flyout: the overlay that contains a listbox
listbox: listbox containing options
button: expands or collapses the listbox overlay (optional)collapsed/expanded: state of listbox overlay
autoSelect: a combobox with
autoSelect will automatically select and fill the textbox value when user cycles through listbox options. Otherwise,
ENTER key is required to manually select an option. Typically this value will be
true for a combobox with autocomplete behaviour.
Experience the pattern in action on our companion eBay MIND Patterns examples website.
Examine the required markup structure in our Bones GitHub project.
View a fully styled example in our eBay Skin CSS framework.
Each row in the list of options allows only a single action, and that action is always to set the value of the textbox. It is not possible, at the time of writing, to have multiple actions per row, e.g. select, edit and delete.
Combobox is not intended for any kind of single-select or multi-select state. Again, the purpose is simply to edit or set the value of a textbox.
When the combobox receives focus, the listbox should expand to show all options.
Pressing ENTER or SPACEBAR on the button (if present) must toggle the listbox expanded state.
Combobox keyboard focus will appear to be in two places at the same time (the textbox and the listbox). In actual fact, keyboard focus always stays on the textbox. The aria-activedescendant property controls the pseudo-focus inside of the listbox.
With listbox expanded, pressing
UP-ARROW keys must navigate pseudo-focus (i.e. the ARIA active-descendant) through the list of options.
SPACEBAR must always enter a blank space in the textbox.
For a combobox with
autoSelect, changing the highlighted option will automatically fill the textbox with that option.
For a combobox without
autoSelect, changing the highlighted option must not automatically fill the texbox;
ENTER key is required to manually select the option.
ENTER key while an option is highlighted must collapse the listbox. For a combobox with
autoSelect the form will be submitted. For a combobox without
autoSelect the form must not be submitted.
ESC key while an option is highlighted must collapse the listbox.
The screen reader will announce the input as "text edit", "combobox" or words to those effect, depending on level of ARIA support.
The screen reader will announce "expanded" or "collapsed", depending on level of ARIA support.
The screen reader will announce any additional programmatic description, depending on level of ARIA support.
The screen reader will announce the current value of the textbox.
Clicking or tapping the button (if present) must toggle the listbox display.
Clicking or tapping an option will fill the textbox with that value and collapse the listbox without triggering a form submit.
We start with a label and textbox:
<span class="combobox" id="combobox-0"><label for="combobox-0-input">Game Console</label><input id="combobox-0-input" name="console" type="text" placeholder="Playstation 4, Xbox One, etc."/><!-- button will go here --><!-- listbox options will go here --></span>
We have added our elements inside of a
A button and listbox elements will be appended to this wrapper. It is up to you whether you wish to render these elements server-side or client-side. There are pros and cons to both approaches, which we will discuss below.
The button should be placed *between* the textbox and listbox in the DOM. This button allows mouse and touch users to expand the combobox.
<button type="button" disabled>Expand</button>
It is sometimes useful to render this button on the server to avoid a flash of content or layout issues. If rendered on the server, you may with to set the button to a
Now we add the listbox of options. The listbox may render on the server or the client. Like the disabled button above, it is wise to put the listbox in a hidden state if rendering on the server. To do so, use the
<div class="combobox__overlay" hidden><ul id="combobox_0-listbox" role="listbox"><li role="option" id="nid-0">Playstation 3</li><li role="option" id="nid-1">Playstation 4</li><li role="option" id="nid-2">Xbox 360</li><li role="option" id="nid-3">Xbox One</li><li role="option" id="nid-4">Wii</li><li role="option" id="nid-5">Wii U</li></ul><!-- status goes here --></div>
role=combobox. We also create the properties and state that connect the combobox to the listbox:
<input id="combobox-0-input" name="console0" type="text" placeholder="Playstation 4, Xbox One, etc." role="combobox" aria-expanded="false" autocomplete="off" aria-owns="combobox_0-listbox">
The new attributes are
At the time of writing, screen readers don't do a good job of conveying the combobox role or how to interact with it. To solve this problem, we can add a description via
<input aria-roledescription="Use up and down arrow keys to navigate combobox options" id="combobox-0-input" name="console0" type="text" placeholder="Playstation 4, Xbox One, etc." role="combobox" aria-expanded="false" autocomplete="off" aria-owns="combobox_0-listbox">
Now the screen reader announces the description whenever focus lands on the combobox.
If the number of options will change based on the value of the combobox (i.e. filtering occurs), the description should also make the user aware of this:
<input aria-roledescription="Use up and down arrow keys to navigate combobox options. Combobox options may change based on input." id="combobox-0-input" name="console0" type="text" placeholder="Playstation 4, Xbox One, etc." role="combobox" aria-expanded="false" autocomplete="off" aria-owns="combobox_0-listbox"/>
Our elements are now in place, but how does a keyboard user navigate to the options? We cannot use TAB key because focus must stay on the combobox (so that user can type and enter their own value). As with most complex widgets, the answer lies in the arrow keys. Up and down arrow keys are the way to select our combobox options.
If focus must remain on the combobox, how then do we also have focus on the listbox options? The answer is that we don't. Focus always remains on the combobox and instead we have a kind of pseudo-focus on the options.
How does the screen reader know where this pseudo-focus is?
We call the option with pseudo-focus the "active descendant". And guess what, there is an ARIA attribute for this called
aria-activedescendant. This attribute is placed on the combobox element. The attribute value is the ID of the currently active (pseudo-focussed) option. This allows assistive technology such as a screen reader to programmatically determine
To make all of this easier, we recommend using a plugin such as makeup-active-descendant. After your HTML structure is in place, simply initialise the plugin on the widget and up/down arrow keys will update the necessary states. Use CSS to style the active descendant in any way you like.
This section gives an overview of ARIA usage, within the context of this pattern.
This attribute changes the role of the text input from
Gives additional instructions on how to operate the combobox options.
The list of suggestions has a role of listbox.
Each listbox item has a role of option.
This property creates a programmatic hierarchy in the accessibility tree for the combobox and the listbox.
Conveys the expanded state of the combobox.
Provides the expand/collapse button with an accessible label, in the case where it has no visible text (i.e. an icon button).
June 17th 2020: Replaced custom description element with aria-roledescription
May 23rd 2019: Removed role="application" hack. Removed live region workaround for VoiceOver's lack of support for active-descendant (support now seems much better).
Apr 29th, 2019: Minor updates regarding how the listbox can be expanded/collapsed
Oct 12th, 2017: Added offscreen live-region to combat new issue with VoiceOver
May 13th, 2016: Developer Guide added
Feb 22nd, 2016: Issue with Safari and Voiceover not announcing combobox options is now fixed.