Fact Checked

What is a Toolbar?

Alan Rankin
Alan Rankin

A toolbar is a pre-arranged list of command “buttons” for a computer program. These buttons, and the toolbar itself, are usually shortcuts that allow the user to control programming functions without searching through a list of commands. Computer operating systems also include toolbars, usually at the top or bottom of the screen. Some toolbars are designed so users can reposition them on the screen for greater efficiency, or hide them altogether.

The toolbar is a kind of programming feature called a graphical user interface, sometimes called a GUI or a widget. While these terms may be mostly known to computer specialists and programming enthusiasts, GUIs are widely used across the globe. They are a form of user-friendly interfaces that allow computer users to manipulate device functions without knowing programming language or protocols. GUIs of one kind or another are found in almost any device that employs a computer, including personal media players, cars, televisions, thermostats and telephones.

Toolbars typically appear at the top or bottom of an application and include shortcuts to a variety of functions.
Toolbars typically appear at the top or bottom of an application and include shortcuts to a variety of functions.

Toolbars have a variety of designs and functions. An operating system toolbar will usually be present any time the computer is active. Graphics programs may have several toolbars, some of which are always visible and others that only appear when certain functions are activated. Web browsing programs will have their own toolbars, separate from the operating system, and individual websites will often add yet another toolbar while the user is visiting the site. Useable screen space can actually be compromised by too many toolbars.

Another disadvantage is that some websites or companies will add toolbars to a computer without the user’s consent, or by convincing the user there is some advantage to adding the function. Some of these toolbars can be spyware programs that track a user’s web activity for marketing purposes. These toolbars can be difficult for inexpert computer users to remove. Operating systems and web browsers offer the option of locking toolbars to prevent such unnecessary add-ons.

Not all such add-on toolbars have sinister intent. Some aid web searches or offer shortcuts to frequently visited websites. “Bookmark” or “favorite” toolbars are examples of this kind of GUI. Most major search engines also offer toolbars to save web users the step of navigating to their search page. Increasing computer screen size means that many users can add these extra toolbars without losing significant screen space. Modern phones and portable devices also have these toolbars, despite their smaller screens. It could be said that the entire interface on some of these advanced handheld devices is nothing more than a high-functioning toolbar.

Discussion Comments


@Soulfox -- I see your point, but the problem is that so few companies don't try to sneak toolbars in on users that every toolbar out there has a bad reputation. I have had things happen so that those things were sneaked past me and wound up installed on my system.

Because toolbars have such rotten reputations, a lot of virus scanners will warn you if one is trying to attach itself to your computer. Toolbars have such a terrible reputation that I would never even consider adding one of those things to my browser. I really doubt I missing out on anything, anyway.


@Melonlity -- Not so fast, ace. There are some toolbars that are useful. Sure, there are a lot of junk ones out there, but there are also plenty that are useful. And if you don't want a toolbar, simply opt out of installing one when you are given the option.

A lot of toolbars come bundled with free software and are used as a way to pay the developers of a software from the revenue those toolbars generate. The ethical companies out there will also make it very clear if you are about to install a toolbar so you will have the chance to avoid adding one.

Yes, there are some junk toolbars out there but not all of them are dastardly.


One of the worst types of toolbars are those ones that wind up installing themselves in your browser. The makers of those always claim that are God's gift to the Internet (and what else should we expect, really?) but they primarily take up screen space, slow down your connections, sometimes flash ads at you, almost always keep track of the sites you visit so a marketing profile can be made about you, etc.

If you ever seen one of those toolbars show up in your system, make sure to run a search on that particular toolbar so you can figure out how to safely remove it. Oh, and the people who come up with those dreadful things out to be ashamed.

Post your comments
Forgot password?
    • Toolbars typically appear at the top or bottom of an application and include shortcuts to a variety of functions.
      By: bloomua
      Toolbars typically appear at the top or bottom of an application and include shortcuts to a variety of functions.