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Why use a button element instead of adding stuff to a div?

The button element is old, solid, technology that gives us all the interactions and accessibility we need out of the box. Using a div instead means we need to add a whole bunch of stuff just to fake a button.

What buttons need to be buttons

My two favourite places for checking HTML-y accessibility-y stuff are MDN and ARIA Authoring Practices Guide.

A button must:

  • look like a button;
  • receive keyboard focus;
  • activate on Space;
  • activate on Enter;
  • have an accessible name;
  • have a role of button.

A button element gives you all of these things for free. And because it’s very old, very basic, HTML, it’s very well supported across different operating systems / browser / assistive technology combinations.

Accessible name

One thing to point out is where the accessible name comes from. A button can get its accessible name from:

  • the text inside the button;
  • the text alternative of an image inside the button (alt for an img and title for an svg);
  • an aria-label attribute;
  • an aria-labelledby attribute

We prefer earlier items on the list. This is because of the First Rule of ARIA Use: use HTML instead of ARIA if we can (and we usually can).

What we need to add to a div to make it a button

We need to add pretty much all the things that buttons do out of the box. It must:

  • look like a button. We can add styles.
  • receive keyboard focus. We can add tabindex=“0”.
  • activate on Space. We can add event listeners.
  • activate on Enter. We can add event listeners.
  • have an accessible name. We can add an aria-label attribute or an aria-labelledby attribute.
  • have a role of button. We can add role=“button”.

Although all these are relatively low complexity, it’s a lot to add to a div, when a button would give us all this for free. In addition, it requires us to add ARIA, which gives us a reason to think about the First Rule of ARIA Use again, and wonder if we couldn’t do this with HTML instead.


Use a button, not a div. :)