It is very common in almost all modern operating system that some programs use a windows that "interrupt" whatever the user is doing, stealing focus to itself.

For example, I was just writing code on VS Code when the modal for updates stole the focus and I ended writing the rest of the code line into the password input.

This behavior happens in a lot of products. I remember for example writing shell instructions on a terminal, someone send me a Skype message and Skype stealing the focus: end result, I wrote "git commit --amend" on a Skype message.

I think this is really bad UX design, and I want to investigate more about it (maybe there is a good reason for this), but I do not know even the name. It would also be helpful to know who invented this.

I appreciate your help.

  • Usually they are called modal (opposed to modeless = non blocking). Maybe this question helps you as well?
    – Nash
    Jun 14, 2021 at 13:46
  • Ok, I think that maybe I did not explain myself correctly or I have a confusion. In my knowledge, modals are those windows that doesn't let you do anything until you take some action over them. I'm talking more about the behavior of certain application of "stealing" the focus from other. I find that very annoying and bad from the point of view of UX, but I want to learn more, because those were designed by people smarter than me. Jun 14, 2021 at 19:56
  • The name I use is aggravating :-) This can't happen in a terminal or DOS window environment because it is single-threaded. Terminal based systems had a console where system messages would appear. Windows now has Notifications, but they are still an interruption, especially when you are looking away from the screen. Here is an article about it: How to control Notifications Jun 15, 2021 at 10:03

1 Answer 1


As far as I have ever heard, “focus stealing” (or minor variations) is the term for the user interface antipattern you have described.


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