Navigation sidebar

The navigation namely refers to the persistent left sidebar where a user can access different sections of the application. In order to ensure a familiar user experience, minimize disruption, and properly introduce changes we utilize the following resources to guide any change to this region:


The left sidebar refers to the navigation that is contextual to each page. These options change depending on if you are looking at a project, a group, or a settings page. The names used for each navigation item should be short and easy to remember, ideally 1-2 words in length.

There are two levels of navigation: top level and a submenu.

Top-level menu items

A top-level menu item is the first anchor that appears within the left sidebar. These items are used to display the most important functionality for that navigation category. A top-level menu item may contain related submenu items.

Each submenu should be a self-contained group of functionality, for example:

  • Items related to planning and managing issues should be under the Issues nav item.
  • Viewing and editing pipelines should be under the CI/CD nav item.

The default active item should be the first submenu item.

In some cases, items within a submenu may change depending on the context, permissions, and roles. For example, the admin area may include more or less items under a top-level menu item than a group or project.

When this occurs, the top-level menu item should remain consistent, even if there is only one submenu item. The reason for top-level menu consistency is to reduce the cognitive effort needed from users to understand the navigation and task hierarchy. For example, we should not replace CI/CD with Runners or Infrastructure with Terraform as the top-level menu item in the sidebar.


  • When navigating using the left sidebar, the sidebar always persists in order to maintain the user's context. The only exception to this rule is for integrations that utilize the external link icon.
  • A cookie is set to remember a user's preference between collapsed or expanded.
  • For medium and large viewports, the left sidebar is collapsed. When expanded manually, it overlaps the page content. The user's cookie preference is not overridden during this state.
  • For small and extra small viewports, the left sidebar is hidden behind a sidebar icon. When expanded, the sidebar overlaps the page and a semi-transparent overlay covers the page content. The user's cookie preference is not overridden during this state.


  • Extra large viewports: 1200px and up
  • Medium and large viewports: 768px to 1199px
  • Small and extra small viewports: up to 767px

Communicating changes to users

The navigation helps orient users, so we want to avoid users wondering, "Who moved my cheese?" Once a change to the navigation has been validated and approved, select one of the following approaches for communicating the change to users based on the assumed level of disruption:

  • None: No in-app messaging is necessary if a change will likely go unnoticed.
  • Minimal: Use an informative component like a toast, alert, or popover for a set duration.
  • Significant: A temporary opt-in method must be provided for at least two milestones.
NOTE: All changes impacting the navigation sidebar must be in the release notes.

How to evaluate disruption

Determining how impactful a disruption may be depends on the scope of the change and is subjective. Try to use objective measures to balance observations and opinions to make an educated guess.

  • Look at user behavior as an indicator. For example, the volume of page visits or clicks within the navigation sidebar can give you an impression of how many will be affected.
  • Think about the types of users being affected. For example, a change might not matter to most, but it might require an administrator to make unfamiliar adjustments to their workflow.
  • Consider how much is changing in the navigation sidebar. For example, moving multiple items, changing the information architecture, or repositioning key functionality disrupts learned behaviors.
  • How accustomed users are to something can influence their sensitivity to change. For example, removing a button that has been in place for years might be controversial.

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