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Several instances of a program can run on multiple machines in a network. One of the instances is in the role of the master.

Usually, the software can decide much more optimally which one to become the master, then a user could. However, to be prepared for exceptional situations we didn't anticipate, or to allow more control to users who are absolutely sure they know what they are doing, the users will be able to override this automatic decision and manually lock in one of the devices as master.

The most straightforward way to solve this would be two checkboxes.

mockup

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If the automatic option is chosen, the other one is disabled, and it will update itself automatically, as its status can change depending on system load, etc.

mockup

download bmml source

Would this cause confusion? In that case, if automatic mode is selected, the other checkbox could be hidden completely, and the state shown as a label instead.

Alternatively, as setting another device as master manually would remove that status from the previously assigned one, a button "assign this device as master" (hidden or disabled if automatic mode is on) might be better than a checkbox, but that would make the UI cluttered, with 3 different elements (a button, a checkbox, and a label)

How are similar situations usually resolved?

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This sounds like a situation where radio buttons would fit perfectly. There's only three options available, and they are mutually exclusive. So I'd go with something like this:

enter image description here

In the case of an already allocated master, you could append the details to the text for that radio button, e.g.

enter image description here

  • This has the problem of not showing which choice was automatically made, if the automatic option is active, necessitating an extra label, which will then show text redundant with the other two options. – vsz Jan 18 '18 at 11:09

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