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What is a Check Box?

By G. Wiesen
Updated Jan 23, 2024
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A check box is a fairly limited form of user input often utilized as part of a graphical user interface (GUI). The way in which this box is used varies depending on the nature of a program and the options presented in relation to the box. They are typically used, however, to present a user with an option that he or she can choose to either have active — on — or not active — off — through his or her input. A check box will be displayed as an empty box when the option is off, and will have a check mark or an “x” in it when the option is on.

Also called a tick box, a check box is a basic component of the GUI used in programs and websites. It is common when used in the settings of a GUI that can be adjusted by the user of a computer or visitor to a website. The individual settings presented by the operating system (OS) of a computer in relation to what is displayed on a desktop or in a program, for example, are often adjusted through the use of a check box for each option. It is important to note that checking or unchecking a box does not usually create an action, but that a separate button is often used to execute any changes based on the state of a check box.

Check boxes typically present a binary option, either “on” or “off.” For example, someone presented with an option to activate automatic spell checking in a word processing program will be able to check the box to turn the option on, or uncheck it to turn the option off. This represents a simple check box with only two possible states.

A more complicated check box, often called a tri-state box, provides a third option. If someone is able to make individual files within a folder non-accessible, then this will typically be done by selecting each file and choosing if it should be accessible or not, a simple binary option. Once that user looks at the folder in total, however, to see if files are accessible, there is a third possibility: that some of the files are accessible while others are not. The box for accessibility for the entire folder could therefore need to indicate that it is neither checked nor unchecked in total, and this is often communicated with a shaded box within the check box.

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