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How to tell the user that an input box is autocomplete-enabled?

Has anyone come across any kind of visual indicator that suggests a text field will autocomplete? Anything that is becoming standard/common?

  • i've seen the HTML attribute autocomplete = on or off, but it doesn't give visual cues.
    – Detect
    Oct 20, 2010 at 20:23
  • All of the auto-completes I've run across rely on AJAX. Since the input needs to be targeted by the JS, the same targeting could be used to apply a style to any text field that has auto-complete functionality. If you want a more interactive indicator, attach some kind of style update to the AJAX call function. When the AJAX call is made, the input that triggered the call can be updated to indicate that it's in the process of auto-completing. Oct 21, 2010 at 0:08
  • 1
    Maybe I wasn't clear enough. If you open a form and click inside a text field, how do you know it has autocomplete without beginning to type? I'm just wondering if anyone is using some sort of style applied to indicate, at a glance, that a particule field will autocomplete. I know what I could do. I'm asking what people are doing.
    – Gregg
    Oct 21, 2010 at 1:54
  • Have only seen that it is very common with a typical "AJAX loading image" inside of the text boxes when starting to type now. The same image non animated would make sense IMHO.
    – sunn0
    Oct 23, 2010 at 0:00
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    I think it might limit the amount of thought required by the user for a particular field. If you know its autocomplete at a glance, you don't have to think as hard about what to put in because you know you're probably getting some options back.
    – Gregg
    Oct 27, 2010 at 4:13

3 Answers 3


A down-arrow, similar to a combo box, would indicate that some kind of list will drop down on focus, preparing the user for suggestions. It could either show an empty list, perhaps with a message like "Start typing for suggestions", or show some common suggestions as lazyboy proposed. The appropriate default would of course be different for different cases. I do think it should drop down with something if you were to show a down-arrow, or the lack of response upon clicking will simply confuse the user more than a plain text box would--counterproductive.


"If you open a form and click inside a text field, how do you know it has autocomplete without beginning to type?"
Whenever the user focuses on the textfield, immediately provide an autocomplete feedback (for empty string/top scored results). Say a user is autocompleting a country field, then focusing on the textfield would immediately show top 5 (or how many you like) countries based on some criteria/score. Most chances are user will not have to type anything if they are sorted correctly. If the user decideds to type "A", filter and show the suggestions for "A".

  • Wouldn't that also confuse users, as they could also expect autocomplete on some fields that don't support it?
    – Jordão
    Feb 5, 2013 at 11:57

Potential idea: Use a fancier placeholder text that looks like part of a word is typed and then a lighter, autocomplete style text is after it - with a cursor between them.

Here's a super simple Photoshop mockup of the idea (imagine it without the underline).Autocomplete idea

  • I think this goes more towards what should be typed there rather than whether or not it will autocomplete. But I think that is a better approach. Thanks Matt.
    – Gregg
    Jun 30, 2011 at 21:01

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