Please support “skip to main content” on your docs site#

2024 Jun 3

Last month I embarked on a journey to get comfortable with keyboard-based computer navigation. In other words, when using my computer I don’t want to move my right hand from my keyboard to my mouse hundreds or thousands of times per day just to do basic navigation tasks like changing tabs, scrolling the screen, etc.


I personally am learning keyboard-based navigation for “power user” reasons: I’ve heard that keyboard-only navigation is faster. But more importantly, keyboard compatibility is a P0 (top priority) website accessibility feature. (I don’t know if this “skip to main content” feature per se should be considered P0, but keyboard navigation in general definitely should be. C-Loftus on Hacker News shared this helpful survey on screen reader user preferences:

How it works#

On day 1 of this journey I realized how important the Tab key is for website navigation. Pressing Tab on my Linux machine (macOS and Windows people, see next section), lets me jump between focusable elements such as links and buttons. If you’re viewing this page from a computer with a keyboard you can try it now:

  1. Press Tab on this page. You should see a Skip to main content link pop up. This is the thing that most docs sites are missing. More on this in a moment.

  2. Press Tab again. The focus moves to the Home link. The link gets a colored border around it; that’s how you know it’s focused.

  3. Keep pressing Tab and notice how the focus moves from link to link.

(To actually navigate to a focused link you press Enter.)

macOS and Windows#

Browser/OS compatibility notes from Hacker News comments:

  • macOS

    • Safari: The shortcut is Option + Tab

    • Firefox: Enable System Settings > Keyboard > Keyboard Navigation and then Tab should work.

  • Windows

    • Firefox: Tab should work “out-of-the-box” but it sounds like my implementation doesn’t work as expected.

The problem#

On day 2 of my journey I realized that a lot of docs sites suck at Tab-based navigation, including the one I work on, They don’t give you a Skip to main content link, like the one you just saw. You have to tab through the header, site nav, and searchbox before focus lands on the main content. In practice, the link/button/etc. that you actually want to interact with is probably in the main content. Big docs sites often have hundreds of links in the site nav, which means you have to tab hundreds of times before the main content is in focus! ༼ ༎ຶ ෴ ༎ຶ༽

Keyboard-friendly sites#

Here are examples of professional sites that implement this feature. These sites probably “have their shit together” when it comes to accessibility:

The fix#

This issue doesn’t seem hard-to-fix. Here’s the change I just put in for Pigweed:

(a11y/webdev people: let me know if I implemented incorrectly/suboptimally. A comment from Hacker News suggests that my implementation doesn’t work correctly on Windows.)

And here’s an issue I just created to fix this across Sphinx’s core themes:


  1. Add the skip link as the very first element after <body>. It should be the very first element to ensure that it’s the first thing that receives focus.

      <a id="skip" href="#skip-target">Skip to main content</a>
  2. Add the skip-target ID to an element near your main content. You can add an empty <span> or you can add the ID to an existing element.

    <span id="skip-target"></span>

    When the “skip to main content” link is focused and you press Enter, you navigate to the element with the skip-target ID. Since it’s an in-page link, this basically just jumps focus to the skip-target element.

  3. Style the skip link so that it’s hidden by default (by pushing it far outside of the visible viewport) and then is shown in the top-left corner when it receives focus:

    #skip {
      position: absolute;
      top: -1000%;
      left: -1000%;
    #skip:focus {
      top: 10px;
      left: 10px;