User Notification

in Forms Tutorial

Notifications have to be concise and clear. In particular, error messages should be easy to understand and should provide simple instructions on how they can be resolved. Success messages are also important to confirm task completion.

Overall feedback

When a form is submitted, it is important that the user is notified whether the submission was successful or if errors occurred. Several of the following techniques can be combined.

Using the main heading

A common way to provide feedback is by using the main heading of the web page, usually, the most prominently displayed <h1> or <h2> element. This technique is particularly useful when forms are processed by the server, but can also be useful for client-side scripting.

Using the page title

The <title> element of the web page can be useful to indicate successes and errors. In particular, screen reader users will receive this feedback immediately when the web page is loaded. This can be helpful when the main heading is located deeper within the content, for example, after the navigation menus.

Using dialogs

A dialog is a common way to inform users of changes. It can be used if other means of informing the user prove to be easily missed. Dialogs are more obtrusive and distracting, which may be the desired effect.

JavaScript provides a very basic alert dialog box that provides proper keyboard navigation and respects the user’s default settings, including font size, colors, and language. A custom dialog implementation has to match that functionality.

The basic example below shows a pop-up that is displayed when the user activates the “save” button. A message is displayed in the dialog box, and the web page is disabled until the user selects “OK”.

Listing errors

When errors occur, it is helpful to list them at the top of the page, before the form. The list should have a distinctive heading so that it is easy to identify. Each error listed should:

Sometimes, for example, when using AJAX techniques, the browser is not loading a new page but shows changes, such as form errors, dynamically on the page. The list of errors should be inserted into a prominent container on the top to inform the user in such a case. In addition to the advice above, this container should have the role attribute set to alert to make assistive technology users aware of this change.

Also, form fields can be associated with the corresponding error message using aria-describedby.

In-line feedback

In addition to overall feedback, more specific feedback at or near the form controls can better help users to use your form. This includes feedback to indicate correctly entered input as well as errors in the input.

Typically a combination of messages and visual cues are used to provide in-line feedback. For example, valid input can be indicated by a checkmark (✓) and green border, while errors can be indicated by an error icon (like a red ✗ or an exclamation mark) and red border. Error messages should also provide guidance on how to correct mistakes. The concepts for such error messages are essentially the same as for providing instructions.

After submit

The example below shows a form with two input fields. The first input field, “username”, is used to register a username. The second input field, “expiry date”, is used to provide a date for when the registration expires.

When the form is submitted, the entries are checked, and feedback is provided to the user. Appropriate success and error messages are displayed for each input field to help the user complete the form.

If the submitted data contains errors, it is convenient to set the focus to the first <input> element that contains an error.

During typing

Instant feedback during typing can be extremely helpful. For example, checking the availability of a username in the previous example required the user to resubmit the form – possibly multiple times. Providing feedback while users are typing allows them to experiment more easily until they find a suitable username. However, client-side scripting is required for such functionality, and not all situations may be appropriate for such feedback.

Binary messages

In the following example, the availability of a username is checked instantly while the user is typing text in the input field. Corresponding success and error messages are displayed without the user needing to submit the form.

Scaled feedback

The example below illustrates a range of possible types of feedback in addition to success and error messages. In the example, the strength of the password is checked as it is typed by the user. The feedback indicates a scale of how strong the password is. The feedback is indicated using several cues, including color coding, a barometer, and label “Weak”, “Okay”, and “Strong”, as well as the time that would be needed to crack the password.

See commented example code in full.

On focus change

In some cases, it does not make sense to check input as it is being typed by the user because it would display error messages most of the time. This is often the case when data needs to be entered in a particular format, such as a date.

In the example below, the user is expected to provide an expiry date. The input is checked when the user leaves the form field, for example, by using the tab key to move the focus to the next field or by clicking on another field.

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