Imagine an arbitrary list of items. To execute a command, the user has to select one of these items in a combobox (if there are no items, the combobox is not shown at all). Should the combobox be enabled even if the user can't change anything, because the combobox just contains one item?

4 Answers 4


The act of selecting the combo box triggers an action? It isn't good practice to use a control where it isn't required. If there is no choice to make, why cant the system present the users with the correct information without the need to interact? Then present the user with static text.

  • No, the combobox selection does not trigger any action.
    – Mike L.
    Commented Oct 10, 2011 at 12:21

If there is only one option selectable, pre-fill the combobox, and remove the ability to make changes by greying it out.

It's context sensitive without messing with the user by actively showing them what is going on but making sure they don't think that they can change it, and without hiding things from them/making them look for it.

  • Greying it out is a great way to maintain consistent inputs but show that the value can't be changed.
    – Zelda
    Commented Oct 10, 2011 at 13:11

Not showing the combobox when there are no items is likely to confuse your customers. If your customers come to expect it to be there, you should always have it there - even if there are no options to select. You could always add an option called "No valid option" or something along those lines.

If you do this then when there is one option the answer is simple. Show only that one option.

  • So you also disagree on context-sensitive menus hiding items which are never applicable on the selected object and suggest to always show all items?
    – Mike L.
    Commented Oct 10, 2011 at 12:20
  • 1
    @MikeL.: It depends. In many situations hiding items can be confusing because someone can't see why they aren't where they expect them. Whereas marking them as inactive and giving a useful error message when someone clicks on them is far less confusing.
    – JohnGB
    Commented Oct 10, 2011 at 12:48
  • Inactive (aka disabled) items can't be activated, so there is no possibility to show any useful error message.
    – Mike L.
    Commented Oct 20, 2011 at 7:30
  • @MikeL. Why not? I have "inactive" items all the time that I show error messages for when people click then. The difference being that I make them look inactive, but keep them active so that I can give an explanation as to why they aren't valid choices when someone clicks on them.
    – JohnGB
    Commented Oct 20, 2011 at 9:32

I think, it would be better to let the user open the combobox to see, that there's only one entry. Else he could get curious about WHY the combobox is disabled.

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