How to Create an HTML Dropdown Menu [+ Examples]

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Anna Fitzgerald
Anna Fitzgerald

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When building web pages, you have limited real estate to display all your content. To maximize space, you can use dropdown menus.

computer with HTML code in the background representing developer creating HTML dropdown menu

In this post, I’ll explain how to create a dropdown menu using HTML so you can incorporate it into your website designs.

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Table of Contents

What is an HTML Dropdown Menu?

A dropdown menu is a list of options that is revealed only when a user interacts with the menu, either by clicking it or hovering over it with their cursor. The menu options then descend vertically and disappear again once the user disengages from the menu.

Since dropdown menus allow you to place more content and links on a page without cluttering it, they’re commonly used on websites and web applications to hide items that users might not need to see after the initial page load, but still might want to use.

Here’s an example of this in practice. The ecommerce website Designer Junkie Apparel uses a dropdown menu to display all its product categories. That way, visitors can either shop the whole collection or hover over the menu and click one of the options to narrow down to the products they’re most interested in.

Screenshot of Designer Junkie’s website’s select dropdown menu

Image Source

Common use cases for HTML dropdowns include:

  • Navigation menus that contain links to other pages on a website.
  • Web forms (including mobile-first Bootstrap forms) that list options from which the user may choose one.
  • Site searches for listing sorting or filtering options for a query.
  • As an alternative to radio buttons that saves page space.
  • Listing out additional, less common actions a user can take inside an application.

Here’s an example of that last point from the HubSpot blog tool:

HubSpot blog tool dropdown menu screenshot

Dropdown menus contain several moving parts that must work together for a seamless user experience. Users can become easily annoyed if your dropdown doesn’t work as expected — that’s why it’s so important to implement them correctly in HTML.

HTML Dropdown Menu Code

What does a dropdown menu look like in its entirety? Here‘s a quick example of the basic code for an HTML dropdown. Below, we’ll cover the syntax in detail.

<label for="dog-names">Choose a dog name:</label> <select name="dog-names" id="dog-names"> <option value="rigatoni">Rigatoni</option> <option value="dave">Dave</option> <option value="pumpernickel">Pumpernickel</option> <option value="reeses">Reeses</option> </select>

HTML Dropdown Menu Syntax

To understand how dropdown menus work in HTML, you’ll need to know three elements: label, select, and option. Let’s look at each of these in more detail.

label

The <label> tag creates a label for a menu or other user input on the page. In order to associate the label with a dropdown, the for attribute is used and shares its value with the id attribute of the following <select> tag.

When a <label> is associated with a <select> tag in this way, clicking the label element will automatically place focus on the select element.

select

The <select> element creates the dropdown menu. It contains two attributes: name and id. The id attribute should have the same values as the for attribute in the <label> tag. The name attribute is used to identify the dropdown if the selection is being submitted in a form.

The <select> tag also takes several optional attributes. These are:

  • Autofocus. Specifies that the dropdown should have input focus (i.e., it’s selected by the browser and can be controlled by the keyboard) when the page loads.
  • Disabled. Disables the dropdown menu.
  • Multiple. Allows multiple options to be chosen.
  • Required. When included in a form, makes the form required in order to submit the form.
  • Size. Sets the number of options that are visible in the dropdown.

option

<select> contains one or more <option> tags nested inside it. Each <option> tag represents one menu item. The opening tag should contain the value attribute, which specifies a value that is submitted when that menu item is selected.

You can also use the optional attributes disabled, which disables the option in the menu, or selected, which automatically selects the option on page load.

It’s easy to create a basic dropdown menu in HTML with the <select> element.

I’ll break the process down step-by-step below.

Step 1: First I create a label element.

To start, add a <label> element to your HTML document. In the opening tag, add a for attribute with a shorthand name for the dropdown list. For example, if the dropdown contains a list of dog names, then you could set the attribute to dog-names. Here’s what your HTML might look like:

<label for="dog-names">Choose a dog name:</label>

Step 2: Next I create a select element.

Next, add a <select> element after the <label> element. In the opening tag, add a name and an id attribute. Set the id attribute to the same value as the for attribute in the <label> tag, and set the name attribute to a value that identifies the menu when submitted in the form (it can be the same as your id value).

For this example, I’ll set both the name and id attributes to dogs. Here’s the HTML:

<select name="dog-names" id="dog-names"></select>

Step 3: Finally, I create option elements and place them inside the select element.

Finally, you’ll add <option> tags between the opening and closing tags of the select element. Add as many options as you want to provide in the dropdown list. Then, add a value attribute within each opening <option> tag and set it to the option name. Here are four examples:

<option value="rigatoni">Rigatoni</option> <option value="dave">Dave</option> <option value="pumpernickel">Pumpernickel</option> <option value="reeses">Reeses</option>

Here’s the result:

See the Pen HTML-only Dropdown by HubSpot (@hubspot) on CodePen.

Try it yourself! The code module above is editable. Toggle between the HTML and CSS tabs, edit the code, and click rerun in the bottom right-hand corner.

HTML Dropdown Default Value

When you create a dropdown menu this way, the first option listed in the HTML will be the default value of the dropdown, as you can see in the example above.

To change the default value, use the selected boolean attribute. Simply add it to the opening tag of the <option> tag you want to display as the default, after its value attribute.

In the example below, you’ll see a dropdown menu for membership plans. While the options include a free and bronze plan, the boolean attribute is used to set the default value to silver.

See the Pen HTML-only Dropdown with boolean attribute by HubSpot (@hubspot) on CodePen.

Try it yourself! The code module above is editable. Toggle between the HTML and CSS tabs, edit the code, and click rerun in the bottom right-hand corner.

How to Make a Hoverable Dropdown Menu

If you’d like a dropdown menu to appear when a user hovers over an element, you’ll need to use HTML and CSS. Let’s look at the process below.

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    Step 1: Create and style a div with a class name “dropdown.”

    First, create a div and add the class dropdown to it. In CSS, set this div’s display to inline-block and position to relative. This will allow the dropdown content to appear right below the dropdown button.

    Here's the HTML:

    <div class="dropdown"></div>

    Here's the CSS:

    .dropdown { display: inline-block; position: relative; }

    Step 2: Create the hoverable element.

    Next, create an element that will reveal the dropdown list when a user hovers over it. For this example, we’ll create a button. Place the button inside the div.

    Here’s the HTML so far:

    <div class="dropdown"> <button>HubSpot Resources</button> </div>

    Step 3: Create and style the dropdown content.

    Now it’s time to create the actual dropdown content, which will be hidden until the user hovers over the button. For the example below, we’ll include three links in the dropdown menu. Each of the links will be wrapped in a div with the class name dropdown-content.

    Here’s the HTML for the dropdown content:

    <div class="dropdown-content"> <a rel="noopener" target="_blank" href="https://blog.hubspot.com/">Blog</a> <a rel="noopener" target="_blank" href="https://academy.hubspot.com/">Academy</a> <a rel="noopener" target="_blank" href="https://www.youtube.com/user/hubspot">YouTube</a> </div>

    In CSS, set this div’s display to none, its position to absolute, and its width to 100%. This will ensure the dropdown content appears directly below the dropdown button and is the same width as the button. Also, set the overflow property to auto to enable scroll on small screens. Finally, the box-shadow property is defined to make the dropdown content stand out against the background.

    Here’s the CSS:

    .dropdown-content { display: none; position: absolute; width: 100%; overflow: auto; box-shadow: 0px 8px 16px 0px rgba(0,0,0,0.2); }

    Step 4: Set the dropdown menu’s hover state.

    To ensure the dropdown content actually shows on hover, you need to specify the div’s display property with the pseudo-class :hover. This defines a special state of the element — in this case, how it appears when a user is hovering over it.

    Here’s the CSS:

    .dropdown:hover .dropdown-content { display: block; }

    Step 5: Style the links inside the dropdown menu.

    Without styling, the links inside the dropdown menu would be bright blue and underlined, with no spacing in between. To make them look better, let’s set the font color to black, the padding to 5px, and the text-decoration property to none.

    Here’s the CSS:

    .dropdown-content a { display: block; color: #000000; padding: 5px; text-decoration: none; }

    Step 6: Change the color of dropdown links on hover.

    You can also style the links to appear differently on hover using the pseudo-class :hover. Say you want the text and background color of a link to change when a user hovers over it.

    Here’s the CSS:

    .dropdown-content a:hover { color: #FFFFFF; background-color: #00A4BD; }

    Here’s the code all together and the result:

    See the Pen Hoverable Dropdown Menu with Links by HubSpot (@hubspot) on CodePen.

    Try it yourself! The code module above is editable. Toggle between the HTML and CSS tabs, edit the code, and click rerun in the bottom right-hand corner.

    How to Make a Multiselect Dropdown Menu

    In the examples above, users could only select one option from the dropdown menu. However, you can also create a menu that allows users to select multiple options. This is called a multiselect dropdown.

    To create a multiselect dropdown, you will need HTML, CSS, and Javascript. Here’s an example created by game and app developer Charlie Walter. Notice that he uses a form element.

    See the Pen Multiselect (dropdown) by Charlie Walter (@cjonasw) on CodePen.

    Try it yourself! The code module above is editable. Toggle between the HTML and CSS tabs, edit the code, and click rerun in the bottom right-hand corner.

    How to Make an HTML Dropdown Menu in Navbar

    If you want to add a dropdown menu to your navigation bar, the steps look a little bit different. But luckily, with some basic HTML and CSS, you'll be able to implement it easily.

    1. Find or create the <nav> element in your HTML code.

    First up, either locate the <nav> tag in your HTML document, or create one. This is your navigation bar and where you'll be adding your dropdown menu.

    We recommend adding a CSS class your nav element so that you can style it using CSS. For this example, we'll be using the class “navbar”, i.e. <nav class=“navbar”>.

    2. Add an unordered list to your navbar.

    In previous tutorials, we used the <select> element to create a dropdown menu. While you could try playing with that in your navbar, it's much easier and quicker to create a dropdown with an unordered list, or an <ul> element.

    The unordered list will later become a list of links that your users can click on. Here's the base HTML code, located within the navigation.

    See the Pen Dropdown Menu in Navbar Unordered List by HubSpot (@hubspot) on CodePen.

    3. Add basic CSS styling to your navbar.

    Next, let‘s style the navbar using CSS. If your website already has an existing navbar, or you’re using a pre-existing theme, then this has already been done for you.

    If not, let's set the background-color property to #333, set the position property to relative, and set the z-index property to 999, so that our navbar appears above every other element and is not obscured.

    Here's what the CSS code looks like:

    See the Pen Dropdown Menu Navbar CSS by HubSpot (@hubspot) on CodePen.

    4. Add CSS styling to your unordered list.

    As a reminder, the unordered list will become your dropdown menu. But we want to style it so that it actually appears properly when users hover.

    In the CSS below, we‘re denoting that we’re specifically styling the unordered list in the navbar by citing the class in the selector. That is: .navbar ul (your menu's unordered list), .navbar li (your menu's unordered list items), and .navbar li a (your menu's list item links, denoted by the a selector). That way, the styling you place here doesn't apply to all unordered lists or links in your website.

    First, for the .navbar ul selector, set the list-style-type property to none. This ensures that there are no bullet points or dash marks preceding your list items. Then, set margin and padding to 0, but you can play with these numbers depending on your preferences.

    See the Pen Dropdown Menu Unordered List CSS - navbar ul by HubSpot (@hubspot) on CodePen.

    Next, for the .navbar li selector, set the display property to inline-block. This ensures your dropdown menu items appear one below the other, and that they don't interrupt each other or other elements on the page.

    See the Pen Dropdown Menu Unordered List CSS - navbar li by HubSpot (@hubspot) on CodePen.

    Lastly, style the .navbar li a selector to change the look of your links. You can play with the font color, padding, and text decoration, but ensure that the display property is set to block.

    That way, the link takes up the entire width of the dropdown, and not just the text itself.

    See the Pen Dropdown Menu Unordered List CSS - navbar li a by HubSpot (@hubspot) on CodePen.

    5. Style the dropdown menu with CSS.

    Finally, it‘s time to style your brand new dropdown menu so that it appears when users hover, and doesn’t show statically on the page, like a normal unordered list would.

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      First, we'll be styling the .navbar ul ul selector. Set the position property to absolute, which ensures the menu remains relative to its parent element (the navbar).

      Then, set the display property to none, so that the dropdown is hidden by default and it only appears when users hover.

      See the Pen Dropdown Menu CSS - navbar ul ul by HubSpot (@hubspot) on CodePen.

      Next, we'll be styling the .navbar ul ul li and .navbar li:hover ul selectors, both of which reference the list items within your dropdown menu. For both, set the display property to block, which ensures they appear one on top of the other.

      See the Pen Dropdown Menu CSS - navbar ul ul li by HubSpot (@hubspot) on CodePen.

      Finally, let's change the background color of the dropdown links on hover. Using the CSS selector .navbar ul ul li a:hover, change the background-color property to the HTML color code of your choosing.

      See the Pen Dropdown Menu CSS - navbar ul ul li hover by HubSpot (@hubspot) on CodePen.

      Here’s the code all together and the result:

      See the Pen HTML Dropdown Menu in Navbar by HubSpot (@hubspot) on CodePen.

      Try it yourself! The code module above is editable. Toggle between the HTML and CSS tabs, edit the code, and click rerun in the bottom right-hand corner.

      HTML Dropdown Accessibility

      There’s another aspect of your dropdowns that we haven’t mentioned yet, but is essential to consider: accessibility.

      Web accessibility is the principle that all online experiences should be usable by anyone, with special attention paid to users with physical, visual, and cognitive disabilities, impairments, and limitations.

      According to Pew Research, 75% of Americans with disabilities are internet users. As a developer, I strive to make all my application elements as accessible as possible, and you should, too. Assistive technologies like screen readers and keyboard navigation tools depend on accessible dropdown menus.

      Dropdowns must be accessible so that these users can browse your site, submit forms, and perform other actions like any other user. If not, they may take longer to find what they need or miss parts of your website altogether.

      When designing a dropdown menu in HTML, here are a few accessibility best practices to keep in mind:

      Nested Dropdown Levels Using ARIA

      Avoid having too many levels in your dropdown, as this will make it harder for users with motor issues to navigate the menu.

      Here is an example of a dropdown menu with nested levels that isn’t accessible:

      See the Pen Non-accessible Dropdown Menu by Darrielle Evans (@Dev-Darrielle-Evans) on CodePen.

      If your menu must include more than one level of submenu (i.e. a menu within a menu within your main menu), use ARIA (Accessible Rich Internet Applications) roles. As defined by the Web Accessibility Initiative, ARIA roles are attributes that define HTML elements to make them accessible across all browsers.

      Here is an accessible way to restructure the same code:

      See the Pen Dropdown-Menu-Accessible by Darrielle Evans (@Dev-Darrielle-Evans) on CodePen.

      I gave each element a role. ARIA roles are used to let the assistive technology know the element's purpose. For example, I gave the <a> tag in each <div class = “submenu” > a menuitem role. This role represents an element that lies within a menu of options. You can check this resource out to learn about other common ARIA roles.

      Code example of ARIA class for dropdown html menu

      The code example above shows the submenu as additional popups once the relevant item is hovered over. This structure is perfect to use aria-haspopup and aria-expanded.

      • Aria-haspopup. This attribute tells the assistive technology that the submenu is active.
      • Aria-expanded. This attribute tells the assistive technology that the content is visible.

      Whenever I need more clarity on using ARIA best practices to make my code more accessible, I use the official ARIA Authoring Practices Guide.

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        You're all set!

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        Tab Menu Items

        All menus on your side, including dropdowns, must be navigable via the tab and enter keys. Tab moves forward through the menu items, and enter opens/closes the menu.

        When I want to verify that my dropdown menus are navigable, I use a testing simulator by Funkify.org. I create a simulator using the no mouse available feature and test my application using the keyboard only. I like using this simulator because it allows me to test using my users' eyes. You can also use other free testers, such as Firefox dev tools or Wave Accessibility Evaluation Tools.

        Avoid Keyboard Traps

        Be wary of keyboard traps. These occur when the user can tab through the items of a menu but cannot “tab out” of the menu and is thus stuck in a loop. While there isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution to avoid keyboard traps, they often occur with certain Javascript functions like onChange, onBlur, or onFocus. It’s okay to use event handlers, but be sure to create a function that handles how they can be escaped by the user using a keyboard.

        Timed Hover Activated Menu

        For hover-activated menus, add a time delay (around a second) between when the cursor hovers off the menu and the menu closes. This helps users without fine motor control stay engaged with the menu if they accidentally disengage. You can achieve this using the DOM and event listeners in Javascript.

        I’ll show you an example below:

        Screenshot of code showing dropdown menu hover timing

        Semantic HTML

        Using semantic HTML whenever possible makes your code easier to understand and makes your menus accessible to screen readers.

        For example, when I include a paragraph on my applications, I enclose this content in a <p> tag instead of a <h2> tag. This lets assistive technologies know exactly what my content is.

        To learn about the fundamentals of dropdown menu accessibility, check out our detailed guide on How to Create Dropdown and Fly-Out Menus That Are Web-Accessible.

        Easily Create Dropdowns in HTML

        With a bit of HTML and CSS, it’s easy to create dropdown menus for your website that are easy, intuitive, and visually appealing.

        You can set your dropdown to trigger with a click or mouse hover event — either way, you save valuable page space for very little interaction cost, which is why dropdown menus have been and continue to be a staple of web design.

        Editor's note: This post was originally published in June 2021 and has been updated for comprehensiveness.

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