A tab control is a way to present related information on separate pages. Tabs are used for dynamic window surface to increase the surface, to manage multiple documents within a single window, or as a view of exclusive options.


Tabs have several advantages. Users can easily access available options or see which forms have been opened. Because foreground tabs are visually differentiated from background tabs the user knows what item is currently in use. Having tabs beyond the screen size may lead to visual clutter.

General Guidelines

Is this the right control?

  • Use tabs:
    • for many controls that can be organized within a few categories, like extended configuration settings
    • for a variable number of sections, like browser pages
    • to manage multiple documents
  • Don't use tabs:
    • for only one page (but show the tab bar when more pages are expected, for example in a web browser).
    • for global application controls.
    • for sequential steps, like wizards.

Guidelines for Desktop User Interfaces


  • Don't abuse other controls to simulate tab behavior.
  • Use horizontal tabs with seven or fewer tabs and all the tabs fit on one row.
  • Don't use vertically stacked tabs. Tabs are drawn above the pages only (QTabWidget::TabPosition = North).
  • Don't use too many tabs. Use a list view with icons and associated pages if there are many pages or if you want to group static pages, e.g. in case of configuration content. This also gives ability to present hierarchy of pages as a tree.
  • Don't use multiple tab bars.
  • Don't disable a tab when it does not apply to the current context. Instead, disable the controls on the page.
  • Make content from one page independent and differentiated from another through the use of tabs.
  • Don't nest tabs.
  • Display scroll buttons in the tab bar to allow navigating tabs when there are too many to see at once.

Tabs with Pages Containing Documents

Special considerations apply for tabs that contain documents rather than settings or controls.

  • Make it possible to re-order tabs.
  • Make tabs closable.
  • Provide a context menu on each tab if their pages contain documents. This menu should only include actions for manipulating the tab itself, such as Move Left, Move Right, Move to New Window, Close, Close All, Reload.
  • Don't resize tabs when adding a status icon or when the content of the page changes. For applications where the tab title changes, like Dolphin or Konsole, it is recommended to have a fixed tab size for all tabs.
  • Consider providing an 'Add New Tab' button on the right side of the tab bar for tabs that contain documents or other user-editable content. In this case the 'Add Tab' button should be used as a corner widget placed on the right hand of the tab bar. Display keyboard shortcuts or menu items for easy access, but don't show the 'Add Tab' function in the application toolbar.
  • Provide keyboard navigation to switch between tabs with Ctrl + Tab (Ctrl
    • Shift + Tab for backward navigation). For compatibility reasons it is recommended to also support Ctrl + PgDown (Ctrl + PgUp for backward navigation).


  • Make last used tab persistent. Otherwise, select the first page by default.
  • Don't assign effects to changing tabs; tabs must be accessible in any order.
  • Only use text in horizontal tabs and not icons.
  • Provide a label with an access key for each tab. Use nouns with title capitalization to describe the content.
  • Don't expand tabs to use empty space of the widget (see the expanding property of the Qt tab bar, unfortunately true by default).
  • Avoid long tab names. Use a compelling, easy to understand label. Phrases not sentences.
  • Don't use abbreviations (acronyms such as HTML are allowed).

Guidelines for Phone User Interfaces

Tabs in global drawer


  • Don't abuse other controls to simulate tab behavior.
  • Don't nest tabs.
  • When the tabs are used to group controls, put them at the top of the screen. Don't use more than three tabs.
    • Don't disable a tab when it does not apply to the current context; disable the controls on the page.
    • Keep interdependent elements in the same tab.
  • When using tabs to open multiple documents (e.g. websites) in the same instance of an application, show them as a list at the top of the global drawer.
    • Offer the user the option to choose between "Use tabs" and "Use separate windows", the default of which is specified by the gobal setting, if it is set, otherwise the default is new windows unless users are used to tabs from existing apps of the same type (e.g. for web browsers).
    • Swiping on a tab away from the screen edge that the menu drawer is attached to (e.g. to the right if the drawer is on the left side) closes the tab.


  • Use short labels for tabs that group controls.
  • Use descriptive names for tabs, e.g. page titles for browser tabs.
    • Put a control to open a new tab below the list of tabs.