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Q: How do I make dropdown navigation menus?
by Mike Slocombe

Q: I'd like a navigation bar for the top of my Web pages with lists that drop down when you mouseover each menu item. I found one at Apycom, and tried to use their coding, but can't get the Java applet to work on the page. Ron Pearce

A: I wouldn't recommend using Java as the prime navigation for your site. It won't display on all browsers - many offices have Java disabled, for example - leaving users stranded without a clue how to get around your site.

Java can run painfully slowly on older machines, and badly written applets can crash browsers, sending visitors fleeing. If you simply must use Java, be sure to include a text-only version of your navigation too.

Example of DHTML drop down menu A better choice would be to use DHTML (HTML and style sheets) for the dropdown effect. This will be easier to edit and should 'degrade gracefully' (remain usable on older browsers), ensuring everyone can access your site.

There's a veritable feast of free drop down menu scripts available on the web, but it's important to consider accessibility and compatibility issues when planning a site's navigation.

Some DHTML menus (like Microsoft's) offer slick, interactive interfaces which effectively mimic those of desktop applications, but all that extra code will increase the download time and the script may not work in all browsers.

There are several excellent, ready-to-run DHTML menu scripts available offering broad browser support, including HierMenus (licensing fee required) and Milonic (free for non profit use).

You can also find a good collection of free navigation Javascript/DHTML scripts at, and

It's important to note that although these menus might look 'way kewl', the extra functionality comes at a price. You'll be adding a hefty chunk of extra complexity to your pages and, more importantly, making them a slower download for users.

Weigh up the pros and cons before inflicting them on visitors.

Whatever menu you choose to use, I'd strongly recommend incorporating a text only alternative on every page.

May 2004

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