A toolbar is a set of buttons, icons, and menus used to control a computer application.
Toolbars are the primary set of controls used to perform common operations required to use a computer application and they usually rely heavily on visual elements such as icons.
The web browser you're using right now has a toolbar located at the top of the browser window. While every browser offers a slightly different toolbar, in most cases the toolbar built into a web browser will include an address bar, “back” and “forward” navigation buttons, a refresh button, a home button, and one or more links to access browser menus. These tools and buttons in combination make up the web browser toolbar.
Virtually all computer applications are controlled by a toolbar. It is typically located along the top of the application window or anchored to one of the sides of the application window. In some applications, toolbars may be detached from the application window. This is typically done when heavy use of that specific toolbar is expected. When a toolbar is detached it is common for additional tools, which were previously hidden, to appear in the detached toolbar. In some cases, it is also possible to rearrange and resize toolbars, dedicating more or less space to each toolbar depending on an individual user's preferences.
Tools on a toolbar are often bundled into categories. For example, a word processing application will typically bundle all font controls – including size, style, and decorations like underlining, bold, and italics – in a single location on the toolbar.
Frequently Asked Questions
I downloaded an application, and a new toolbar was added to my browser. Is that ok?
At one time, the use of third-party addon toolbars in web browsers was popular. However, some software developers took undue advantage of this practice and began using toolbars to track and sell user web browsing and search history – a serious violation of user privacy. When coupled with the fact that these toolbars were often bundled with unrelated applications and downloaded unintentionally, this activity placed many browser toolbars into a category referred to as grayware – one step above malware such as viruses and trojan horses.
While there are legitimate and useful toolbars available that add value to web browsing activity, this unscrupulous activity of some toolbar developers led to a rapid decline in the popularity of web browser toolbars, and most users now carefully avoid adding toolbars to their web browser.
If a toolbar was added to your browser without your knowledge most experts would recommend that you figure out how to remove it. It may be harmless enough, it may be annoying but not malicious, or it may be spying on your activity and selling that information to the highest bidder. So if you're unsure about a toolbar, the best practice is to remove it. The removal process will vary depending on which browser you are using, and which toolbar has been installed.
What's the difference between a ribbon and a toolbar?
In the past, the word “ribbon” was sometimes used interchangeably with the word “toolbar”. More recently, the word ribbon has been repurposed to apply to a group of toolbars, organized by tabs, where selecting each tab presents the user with a new toolbar.
A ribbon is a group of toolbars organized by tabs.