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I am having a hard time figuring out the best practices on Back Button functionality within a mobile application because I have seen a lot of conflicting viewpoints.

I have taken to the developer guides for iOS and Android to figure this out and have found that both recommend using the back arrow in the mobile application to navigate up the hierarchy of your application as opposed to using it like a browser back button which navigates chronologically.

In either developer guide, I have not found specific guidance for how to handle navigating back to a search results page. For example, in my application we are implementing a global search which can be used to find and navigate to any object in the application. But I don't know whether the back button should go back to the search results or not once they have navigated by clicking one of the objects in the search results. And if not, then how I should allow the user to be able to view their last search.

And to make it more confusing, I have taken a look at the functionality of what I consider to be similar apps hierarchically to mine: Google Drive and GMail. Both of these apps break the hierarchical back button navigation when search is involved. For example, when I search for a folder this is the sequence: Home -> Search: Assembly -> Folder: Assembly -(back button)> Search:Assembly -(back button)> Home.

Please advise, since most of the other questions about this provide outdated or inconsistent viewpoints.

Related posts:

Back button on mobile web app

Back function in (mobile) native apps vs. web apps

Is a back button a good idea for mobile?

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I'd say that the back button should most definitely be utilized to allow a user to return to their search results page after checking out a search item. There are going to be more times than not where a user will have to look at several search items rather than managing to find exactly what they were searching for on the first try, and they should have easy access to doing that.

I'd also argue that the use of the back button in this case is navigating up hierarchically.

Home is at your highest level, then you go a level down into search, another level down into a folder, another into an item in that folder.

Chronological navigation here might entail that if you've gone into several items or folders in the search results before finding what you want, you get taken back to those and bounce around in terms of hierarchy.

  • Yup, after reading all of the developer guides and looking at more applications this is the conclusion that I've come to. As you said, maintaining the hierarchical navigation is just a matter of not jumping around to child or sibling nodes using the back button. This can be accomplished using a stack and thinking of the hierarchy like a tree. Just make sure you pop when you go up (use the back button). – Chris Lang Sep 19 '17 at 15:52

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