Xamarin Navigation Design Patterns

Navigation gives a user what they need to get around an app quickly, moving from screen-to-screen with confidence and ease. This may include menus, tappable icons, buttons, tabs, and list items, as well as many types of gesture-sensitive screens to display data, information, and options to the user.

Navigation patterns are industry-standard templates for tying an app’s screens together in an elegant and usable way. The two most common visual design patterns in mobile navigation are hierarchical and modal. Out of these base navigation patterns come an entire family of derivative patterns which combine, enhance, and decorate these patterns to create the full range of mobile UI patterns available. Here is an exhaustive list of the most common mobile UI navigation patterns used in Xamarin development:

  • Hierarchical – a stack-based navigation pattern where users can move deeper into a screen hierarchy, then back out again one screen at a time using the up or back buttons
  • Modal – a screen which interrupts hierarchical navigation, often a pop-up screen with an alert or menu which the user can complete or cancel
  • Drilldown List – a list of tappable items selected to display item detail
  • Navigation Drawer – a navigation menu which slides over from the left side at the tap of an icon, typically three horizontal lines in the upper-left part of the screen known as the “hamburger”
  • Tabs – a bar containing several folder-like tabs at the top or bottom of the screen each with tappable icons or text invoking new pages
  • Springboard – also referred to as a dashboard, this is a grid of tappable icons invoking new pages
  • Carousel – horizontally-slidable screen-sized panels, sometimes containing large images

Let’s explore two of the most common navigation patterns, hierarchical and modal.


Hierarchical is a stack-based pattern where users can move deeper into a screen hierarchy, then back out again one screen at-a-time using the Back or Up button. This typically involves a toolbar at the top of the screen which displays an up button in the upper-left corner of the screen when a page is selected or “drilled down into” by any means. As the user drills deeper into the menu structure, a stack is maintained with each page pushed onto it. Two buttons are used in tandem to navigate backwards, popping pages off of the stack: the up and the back button.  The back button is the curved arrow icon on the bottom of the screen, although iOS doesn’t have one. The up button is the “less than” icon in the upper-left corner. Deep navigational stacks can be traversed in this manner with page selection requiring the use of additional UI navigation patterns such as the navigation drawer, drilldown list, or popup menu.


A Modal is a single, interruptive popup or screen which comes in two flavors. The most common type floats overtop the main page and is usually an alert, dialog, or menu which the user can respond to or cancel.  Navigation reverts back to the originating page when the modal is dismissed. A modal informs the user of some important event, such as a saved record, or gives them the opportunity to provide input or direction, such as a menu or whether to commit or cancel a transaction. The second, less common, type of modal replaces the main page entirely, interrupting the hierarchical navigation stack.

The two most common modal menus in the mobile UI are the Navigation Drawer and the Action Menu. The Navigation Drawer typically slides in from the left and is triggered by the tapping of an icon in the upper-left corner of the screen (usually “the hamburger”) and displays a list of pages to navigate to.  The Action Menu typically slides in or pops up on the right side of the screen, and is invoked by tapping an icon in the upper-right corner of the screen (usually three vertical dots) and contains mostly operations (ex. Favorite This), though less frequently some navigation pages as well.  To follow this established UI pattern, remember the rule: Nav on the left, action on the right.

Hierarchical and modal UI navigation patterns are typically used as complementary techniques with hierarchical providing the skeleton of the navigational structure and modals giving the user choices for what they want to do and where they wish to go within the app as well as informational updates along the way.

Xamarin.Forms provides most of the primary navigation patterns out of the box:

  • Hierarchical navigation using NavigationPage
  • Modal using NavigationPage, alerts, and ActionSheets
  • Drill-down lists using NavigationPage, ListView, and TableView
  • Navigation drawer using MasterDetailPage
  • Tabs using TabbedPage
  • Springboard using images with gesture recognizers
  • Carousel using CarouselPage

I hope that’s enough to get you thinking about navigation in your own apps. In my book, I explore hierarchical, modal, and the rest of the navigation patterns on each platform. The navigation chapter in the book is really one its crown jewels, providing you with patterns to build just about any app you can imagine! If you want to check out the navigation patterns in code, head over to GitHub and look at chapter 6. You can use that code to lay the groundwork for just about any business app!

In last week’s post I covered the Drilldown List pattern. In upcoming posts, I’ll talk about more of the the key navigation patterns in detail.


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