I have an admin Backoffice.

I have item lists with an action button on each item. Several actions are available.

When an action is temporarily unavailable, I've decided to disable it. But sometimes an action is definitively unavailable.

For instance, imagine you have VAT codes (1 = 5%, 2 = 10%). Those codes can be applied to items.

An admin can delete a VAT code if it is not used by an item. Then, according to my logic, when it can not be deleted, I would disable it.

But, I have a particular process where an item can no longer be edited. Then, the VAT code can not be "unused", and can no longer be deleted.

In this situation, should I keep my action disabled (although it will never be enabled again on this item) or should I remove the action?

I'm afraid, for option 2, that it could be weird for the admin, that sometimes some impossible actions are disabled, and sometimes they are hidden.

I've read a lot of discussions about this kind of question, but not with my use case. Thank you.

  • 1
    My first impression is to remove it. If you leave it but disabled, add a flyover message that states the action is permanently disabled, and why. Apr 5, 2023 at 12:34
  • Yes, of course, I would add a hint Apr 5, 2023 at 14:42

3 Answers 3


In this situation, where the action is permanently removed (when the item is used), I'd say that removal of the edit ability is a reasonable treatment. Stack Exchange sites do this with comments, where they can only be edited or deleted for 5 minutes following the initial post. Choosing to not show disabled edit and delete actions for every single comment older than 5 minutes removes a whole lot of clutter from the UI.

However, since your items are editable for an arbitrary amount of time (for as long as the item remains unused), I would argue that the only wrong or non-obvious approach would be to hide the action with no message. As long as you provide some explanation, it should be fairly understandable for your users to understand why the editability changed.

Personally, I'd probably remove the action and replace it with a lock icon or similar, with an explanatory message. Additionally, it may be helpful to ensure your users are aware of this rule at the time of creation, so they don't mistakenly think they'll have the ability to edit indefinitely.

A mockup of two items, one with an "edit" link, and another with a lock icon and a tooltip that reads "This item has associated objects and cannot be edited."

Initially, I thought this related question was similar enough to yours that I voted to close as a duplicate, however, I think the nuances of your question warrant a response of its own. Still, some conversation there may be relevant to this situation.

  • I like this idea, to display a lock. For now, I have a "Show" action behind the action button, but as the Show page doesn't display more info than the listing, I think I can remove it, thus replace the action button by the lock. Apr 11, 2023 at 7:32
  • btw, the use case in your link is obvious to me: you don't display a button for a user who has not the right to do the action, then it is not the same case. Apr 11, 2023 at 7:37

Disable the action and provide an explanation.

  • When an action is temporarily unavailable, disable it as you have been doing. When an action is definitively unavailable, disable it and add a tooltip or an info icon next to it.
  • When the admin hovers over the icon, a message should appear explaining why the action is permanently unavailable.

By choosing this approach, you maintain consistency across the interface by always displaying the action, whether it is temporarily or permanently unavailable. At the same time, you provide the necessary context and information to the admin, helping them understand why the action is disabled.

This approach ensures that the admin doesn't feel confused or think there's a mistake when an action is missing. Additionally, it helps prevent unnecessary support requests or frustration from the admin trying to figure out why an action is unavailable.

  • Yes that was my main thought. I think I'll try to do maxathousand's solution first. If not possible for ay reason, I'll probably just disable the action here. Apr 11, 2023 at 7:35

Maybe this is not your case but... Suppose you have a form to enter data about a home pet. First you need select between Animal, Bird or Fish. Animal has Mustache Width property, Bird has Beak Length property and Fish has Scale Color property.

It is hard to imagine all these properties could be visible at the same time even if disabled for not corresponding selection. So, if an item set to not to have VAT, remove properties corresponding to it. Otherwise you need to display something correct in VAT value field even if it is disabled.

Another possibility is not to have VAT checkbox and VAT Value input but have only VAT Value field and add option "0%" or "None" which indicates absense of VAT, but this should be correct from your users point of view in their knowledge domain.

  • That is not my issue here, although I have this "0%" VAT code question aside, but I'll manage it later :) Apr 11, 2023 at 7:34

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