What is a Sidebar?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

A sidebar is a form of auxiliary menu which can be found at the edge of a web page or application, with many operating systems also using sidebars as a form of menu for desktop navigation. Sidebars can contain a wide variety of information, and they are often designed to be configurable by the user so that he or she can keep commonly used tools and information in an easily accessible site. Sidebars may be located to the left or the right of the main application, depending on the taste of the user and the language he or she works in.

Bloggers often use sidebar navigation.
Bloggers often use sidebar navigation.

For applications, a sidebar can hold a number of commonly used tools and provide a form of navigation. Instead of having to enter drop down menus at the top of the application, a user can quickly grab a tool he or she needs. For example, in a photo editing program, sidebars might contain a range of commonly used tools, with the user potentially having the option to put favorite tools in the sidebar and remove infrequently used tools. Some sidebars are collapsible, allowing the user to hide the menu when it is not in use to avoid visual distractions.

Website navigation often features sidebars. The website may also include menu navigation at the top of the page as well, depending on the design. Sidebars can include navigation tools along with widgets and other information which the site owner thinks might be useful for visitors. Bloggers are particularly fond of sidebar navigation, using the sidebar to display links to archives, site policies, copyright notices, blogrolls, and other information for users.

Many blogging templates come with a sidebar built in, allowing the user to manipulate the contents to suit. Bloggers can also build their own sidebars from scratch. Sidebar navigation on other types of websites can be hand coded, or accomplished with drop-in code designed by someone else, depending on the taste and comfort level of the person creating the website.

A desktop sidebar as seen in many operating systems is usually configurable by the user, with the user determining which programs are in the sidebar, and adding shortcuts to commonly used folders or files. Sidebar navigation can be easier than going through the drop down menus, saving time for the user by allowing him or her to access tools with one click. Sidebars may also be known as “docks” in some operating systems.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a EasyTechJunkie researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments


When I was studying to be a paralegal, we learned about a legal move called a sidebar. A sidebar in legal terms is when the judge summons a lawyer to come to the judge's bench to talk about something that he doesn't want the jury or the other attorneys to hear.

A lawyer can also ask the judge if he can approach the bench to talk about something off record. The opposing attorney is allowed to be there.

In general terms, a sidebar is a time when some people at a meeting, step aside to talk about information that they don't wish to share with the group.

These definitions kind of fit in with the sidebars in writing or on the computer. They talk about extra information off to the side. One difference with the law definition, the information isn't shared with the larger group.


@David09 - That’s good information; I didn’t realize the history of the term.

However, I think their use in computer technology has expanded way beyond the original definition. When I look at things like a Google gadgets sidebar, for example, I mostly think of it as a sleek, glorified shortcut to a commonly used menu item or application.

It may not lead to anything like a news feed. It’s just its own little program with self-contained functionality.


I think it should be pointed out that the term “sidebar” didn’t originate with computer use. I actually first came across the term when I was part of a writers group many years ago.

Sidebars are little boxes of information that accompany articles in magazines. They would provide nuggets or tips that would enhance the meatiness of the article. Editors love sidebars; they add value to an article and provide an eye-catching way to pull the reader in – a kind of bait for the whole piece.

Later the term spread to computer use because the concept is the same. A Vista sidebar for example presented you with a small box with information that could from an RSS newsfeed, presented in an easy to read nugget format. The “article” in this case came about through clicking on the links to read the whole feed.

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