The Difference Between Anchors, Inputs and Buttons
One of the things I love about CSS is how easy it is to make one element look like another. In the example above, the first element is an anchor, the second is a button and the third is an input. I've overridden the
click behavior of all three so they do the same thing.
If all three elements look and behave the same, does it matter which one you use? In this article, I'll explain the difference between anchors, inputs and buttons, and I'll show you when to use each one.
The question of which element to use boils down to semantics, which is using markup that reflects the meaning of the content. Using semantic HTML makes your content explicit, which gives you better browser compatibility, accessibility and SEO.
<a> element) represent hyperlinks. What's a hyperlink? A hyperlink is a resource a person can navigate to or download in a browser. If you want to allow your user to move to a new page or download a file, then use an anchor.
An input (
<input>) represents a data field. The
type attribute tells the browser which type of data the input controls. There are five input types related to buttons.
<input type="submit">: This is the most common button input. It's a button that, when clicked, submits a form.
<input type="image">: Like an
<input type="submit">, this input submits a form. However, it also takes a
srcattribute and is displayed as an image.
<input type="file">: This control is used to upload files and is shown as a label and a button. There's no good cross-browser way to style file inputs, so you'll usually set its
hiddenand use a second button to trigger it.
<input type="reset">: This is a button that resets a form.
<button> element represents a button! Buttons do the same things as the inputs mentioned above. Buttons were introduced into HTML as an alternative to inputs that are much easier to style. Unlike inputs, a button's label is determined by its content. This means you can nest elements within a
button, such as images, paragraphs, or headers. Buttons can also contain
Like an input, a button has a
type attribute. This attribute can be set to
button and does the same thing as the input's type. By default, the
submit. If you place a button in a form and don't set its
type, when it's clicked it will submit that form! If you don't want this behavior, set the
One nifty feature of inputs and buttons is they support the
disabled attribute. This makes it easy to turn them on and off. Sadly, anchors don't have this capability.
So should you use an anchor, input or button? When you're navigating the user to a page or resource, use an anchor. Otherwise, both inputs and buttons are valid. Personally, I prefer to use inputs for submitting and resetting forms and buttons for custom behavior because I think it makes the intent clearer. However, the element you use is entirely up to you. Go nuts!
About Landon Schropp
Landon is a developer and entrepreneur based in Seattle. He's the author of Unraveling Flexbox, a book on how to create modern, responsive layouts in CSS. He's passionate about building simple apps people love to use.