Do you believe there should be a back button on a responsive website or should we rely on the browser's controls?

If you believe there needs to be a button in the design...

  • Would you have it appear all the time or only on small (smartphone) screens?
  • Do you have any examples of websites that do this well?

FYI I'm working on a website which is more a tool than a content website. Users will need to be logged in and they'll probably visit this website several times a week.

I've found this fairly recent post about the topic, and although the answer is interesting, I don't see any studies/articles to support the points that are made.

Edit: there is a similar post about this but it's nearly 7 years old so it's probably not relevant anymore

  • 1
    Without knowing more about why you'd want a back button in your responsive website, it's hard for me to significantly differentiate your question with the one from 2011.
    – Alan
    Commented Feb 15, 2018 at 13:00
  • @Kishan that post is nearly 7 years old so I think it's time for a new discussion about this :) Commented Feb 15, 2018 at 13:06
  • We can't have new conversations just like that without significant differences. I think you could update/add a new section to the 2011 question. @Alan what do you suggest?
    – Kish
    Commented Feb 15, 2018 at 13:12
  • 3
    All modern smartphone/desktop browsers provide built-in forward/back buttons, which users are accustomed to. If your site relies on URL-based navigation, interfering with these standard controls is bad UX. If your page is a SPA or a web-app, you likely will need custom controls (responsive or not) to navigate the interface.
    – Alan
    Commented Feb 15, 2018 at 14:54
  • 1
    The top answer on the 2011 post states (in the second half) the same thing as the post I just linked: "don't mess with the back button if you don't have to". :)
    – Alan
    Commented Feb 15, 2018 at 15:00

2 Answers 2


It's important to recognize the difference between an "back in hierarchy" button (also called an "up button") and a "back in time" button.

A "back in time" button is what you find in web browsers and on Android phones. You can rely on it being there, but you'll never know where it leads. A person could have visited the page from your app, but also from an email link, a social network, etc.

That means you still have to include a way to navigate to different sections of your app.

One way to do that is by including an up button, just like mobile apps do. There are also other ways—for example, if your navigation hierarchy is relatively flat, a logo to get to the homepage or a hamburger menu to get to different top-level pages might suffice.


I would suggest leaving browser controls to the browser and focusing on navigation in general. Make it easy for your users to get where they need to go and 'back' is less of an issue.

If your site involves any stepped processes you should be providing the means to go back to previous steps, but it doesn't sound like that's what you're asking about.

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