What Is Breadcrumb Navigation?

Breadcrumbs are excellent tools for navigation and usability.

An article's breadcrumb
Der Reisende / Wikimedia Commons / Creative Commons

Breadcrumb navigation in Web design is a term for a navigational scheme that shows where you are within a site's Web page hierarchy and in relation to the main page. You can follow breadcrumbs, page by page, from your current page, back up the chain of pages navigated through to reach the current page.

Also known as a breadcrumb trail or depth path, it is usually found near the top of a Web page. Each page in the trail is laid out horizontally and often separated by a greater-than sign ">" indicating the path progression.

The concept is based on the fairy tale of Hansel and Gretel, who used crumbs of bread dropped ​along their path through the forest that would help them find their way back home.

Why Use Breadcrumb Navigation?

There are many reasons a large website should use breadcrumb navigation, such as:

  • : Breadcrumb trails benefit usability greatly for very large websites with deep hierarchies by making backtracking easier. They shouldn't be used on sites that are structurally only one level.
  • Easy Backtracking: For users, breadcrumbs are intuitive and easy to understand. Standard site menus are not designed for easy backtracking. Using breadcrumb navigation, a user can quickly and easily jump back to a desired page in the trail, reducing the number of clicks needed compared to using the Back and Forward buttons of their browser.
  • Site Comprehension: Breadcrumb navigation also assists the user in understanding the information architecture of a website. At a glance, a breadcrumb trail for a well-designed site can convey the scheme used to organize a site's information. 
  • Discoverability: Breadcrumb navigation also helps with the "discoverability" of pages in a site. If a user arrives on a particular page by way of an online search, the breadcrumb trail reveals pages of related content available on the website.
  • Small Footprint: Breadcrumb trails deliver great usability while generally requiring only a small amount of space because of their horizontal orientation.
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    Kyrnin, Jennifer. "What Is Breadcrumb Navigation?" ThoughtCo, Mar. 24, 2017, thoughtco.com/what-is-breadcrumb-navigation-3470042. Kyrnin, Jennifer. (2017, March 24). What Is Breadcrumb Navigation? Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/what-is-breadcrumb-navigation-3470042 Kyrnin, Jennifer. "What Is Breadcrumb Navigation?" ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/what-is-breadcrumb-navigation-3470042 (accessed November 21, 2017).