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Modals focus the user’s attention exclusively on one task or piece of information via a window that sits on top of the page content.


Modals are a variant of dialog used to present critical information or request user input needed to complete a user’s workflow. Modals interrupt a user’s workflow by design. When active, a user is blocked from the on-page content and cannot return to their previous workflow until the modal task is completed or the user dismisses the modal. While effective when used correctly, modals should be used sparingly to limit disruption to the user.

Modal dialogs are commonly used for short and non-frequent tasks, such as editing or management tasks. If a user needs to repeatably preform a task, consider making the task do-able from the main page.

When to use

Require an immediate response from the user

Use a dialog to request information that is preventing the system from continuing a user-initiated process.

Notify the user of urgent information

Use a modal dialog to notify the user of urgent information concerning their current work. Modal dialogs are commonly used to report system errors or convey a consequence of a user’s action.

Confirm a user decision

Use a modal dialog to confirm user decisions. Clearly describe the action being confirmed and explain any potential consequences that it may cause. Both the title and the button should reflect the action that will occur. If the action is destructive or irreversible then use a transactional danger modal.


PassivePresents information the user needs to be aware of concerning their current workflow. Contains no actions for the user to take.
TransactionalRequires an action to be taken in order for the modal to be completed and closed. Contains a cancel and primary action buttons.
DangerA specific variant of transactional modal used for destructive or irreversible actions.
AcknowledgmentSystem requires an acknowledgement of the information from the user. Contains only a single button, commonly “OK”.
ProgressRequires several steps to be completed before it can be closed. Contains a cancel, previous, and next/completion buttons.

Live demo




Modal anatomy diagram

The modal is composed of three distinct zones: A header, the body, and a footer. Components (eg. data table, form, progress indicator) can occupy the full width of the modal.

  1. Header: Includes a title, optional label, and the close icon.

  2. Body: Contains the information and/or controls needed to complete the modal’s task. It can include message text and components.

  3. Footer: Contains the main actions needed to complete or cancel the dialog task. Button groupings change based on modal variant.

  4. x: The close x icon will close the dialog without submitting any data.

  5. Overlay: Screen overlay that obscures the on-page content.


There are four responsive modal sizes: xs, small, default, large. Choose a size that works best for the amount of modal content you have. Modals with short messages should use a xs or small modal to avoid long single lines; for complex components, like data table the default or large modal will be more accommodating.

Modal sizes

Max heights

Each modal size has a max height in order to maintain a proper window ratio. If your modal has too much scrolling due to a max height consider using the next modal size up. If the large modal height is still not enough space then this is an indicator that a full page may be needed instead.

Modal max heights


Inside of a modal, body copy, including titles, have a 20% margin-right. However, form inputs and other components expand the full width of a modal window.

Modal alignment


Main elements


  • The title should be brief, using a verb plus noun combination that clearly describes the dialog’s task or purpose.
  • You can use an optional label above the title to set the context for the information in the dialog.

Body copy

  • A modal should include only content relevant to completing the current task.
  • Text should only be 80% of the modal’s width and components can span 100% of the width.


  • Use descriptive words for the actions such as Add, Delete, and Save. Avoid vague words like Done or OK. For a list of approved action labels, see Carbon’s content guidelines.
  • If you need to include a “docs” or other non-primary action, include it as a link in the modal’s body.

Overflow content

When the modal content is longer than the modal height then the body section should scroll vertically with the header and footer remaining fixed in place. The content should visibly fade at the end of the modal body area to indicate there is additional content out of view.

Modal content should never scroll horizontally; instead, use a larger size modal.

Overflow content example

Title as message

For short, direct messages the title can include the whole message to add visual clarity to an otherwise repetitive title and body message. When using this style, no other body copy may be included.

Title as message example

Further guidance

For further content guidance, see Carbon’s content guidelines.



Modals are triggered as a result of a user’s action and are not system generated. Common components that can trigger a modal include, button, link, or icon. On a keyboard, selecting Enter or Space should launch the modal.


Once the modal is open, set the initial focus to the first location that accepts user input. For example, if the modal contains a form then the focus should automatically be set to the first field when opened. If it is a transactional modal without form inputs in the body section then the first focus should be on the primary button.

Focus should then remain trapped in the dialog until it is closed. When navigating by keyboard, Tab and Shift-Tab do not move the focus outside of the modal.

Modal focus example


The task completion action should take place immediately. If a longer loading period is needed then a loading spinner and overlay should appear on top of the modal body area with content disabled. The primary action button should be disabled while loading is in progress.

If a quick loading period is needed then use a inline loading behavior on the primary button to indicate the data is being processed.

Modal loading options


Validate a user’s entries before the modal is closed. If any entry is invalid then the modal should remain open with the entry marked in an error state and include an inline error message. The message should inform the user what has happened and provide guidance on next steps or possible resolutions. Effective and immediate error messaging can help the user to understand the problem and how to fix it.