Build a dynamic UI that reacts to user input

Shiny apps are often more than just a fixed set of controls that affect a fixed set of outputs. Inputs may need to be shown or hidden depending on the state of another input, or input controls may need to be created on-the-fly in response to user input.

October 15, 2019

Dynamic UI

Shiny apps are often more than just a fixed set of controls that affect a fixed set of outputs. Inputs may need to be shown or hidden depending on the state of another input, or input controls may need to be created on-the-fly in response to user input.

Shiny currently has four different approaches you can use to make your interfaces more dynamic. From easiest to most difficult, they are:

  • The conditionalPanel function, which is used in ui.R and wraps a set of UI elements that need to be dynamically shown/hidden.
  • The renderUI function, which is used in server.R in conjunction with the uiOutput function in ui.R, lets you generate calls to UI functions and make the results appear in a predetermined place in the UI.
  • The insertUI and removeUI functions, which are used in server.R and allow you to add and remove arbitrary chunks of UI code (all independent from one another), as many times as you want, whenever you want, wherever you want.
  • Use JavaScript to modify the webpage directly.

Let’s take a closer look at each approach.

Showing and Hiding Controls With conditionalPanel

conditionalPanel creates a panel that shows and hides its contents depending on the value of a JavaScript expression. Even if you don’t know any JavaScript, simple comparison or equality operations are extremely easy to do, as they look a lot like R (and many other programming languages).

Here’s an example for adding an optional smoother to a ggplot, and choosing its smoothing method:

# Partial example
checkboxInput("smooth", "Smooth"),
  condition = "input.smooth == true",
  selectInput("smoothMethod", "Method",
              list("lm", "glm", "gam", "loess", "rlm"))

In this example, the select control for smoothMethod will appear only when the smooth checkbox is checked. Its condition is "input.smooth == true", which is a JavaScript expression that will be evaluated whenever any inputs/outputs change.

The condition can also use output values; they work in the same way ( gives you the value of the output foo). If you have a situation where you wish you could use an R expression as your condition argument, you can create a reactive expression in the server function and assign it to a new output, then refer to that output in your condition expression. If you do this, make sure to also set outputOptions(output, [newOutputName], suspendWhenHidden = FALSE). (This is necessary because Shiny normally doesn’t send values to the browser for outputs that are hidden or not present in the UI. In this case, however, the browser does need to know the most up-to-date output value in order to correctly evaluate the condition of the contitionalPanel function - suspendWhenHidden = FALSE ensures this will happen.) For example:

ui <- fluidPage(
  selectInput("dataset", "Dataset", c("diamonds", "rock", "pressure", "cars")),
  conditionalPanel( condition = "output.nrows",
                    checkboxInput("headonly", "Only use first 1000 rows"))
server <- function(input, output, session) {
  datasetInput <- reactive({
           "rock" = rock,
           "pressure" = pressure,
           "cars" = cars)
  output$nrows <- reactive({
  outputOptions(output, "nrows", suspendWhenHidden = FALSE)  

shinyApp(ui, server)

However, since this technique requires server-side calculation (which could take a long time, depending on what other reactive expressions are executing) we recommend that you avoid using output in your conditions unless absolutely necessary.

Creating Controls On the Fly With renderUI

Sometimes it’s just not enough to show and hide a fixed set of controls. Imagine prompting the user for a latitude/longitude, then allowing the user to select from a checklist of cities within a certain radius. In this case, you can use the renderUI expression to dynamically create controls based on the user’s input.


# Partial example
numericInput("lat", "Latitude"),
numericInput("long", "Longitude"),


# Partial example
output$cityControls <- renderUI({
  cities <- getNearestCities(input$lat, input$long)
  checkboxGroupInput("cities", "Choose Cities", cities)

renderUI works just like renderPlot, renderText, and the other output rendering functions you’ve seen before, but it expects the expression it wraps to return an HTML tag (or a list of HTML tags, using tagList). These tags can include inputs and outputs.

In ui.R, use a uiOutput to tell Shiny where these controls should be rendered.

Adding/removing UI with insertUI and removeUI

Here’s a pretty simple example (also available here) of how one could use insertUI and removeUI to insert and remove text elements using a queue logic:

You might also want to check out this other app that demos how to insert and remove a few common shiny input objects. Finally, this app shows how to dynamically insert modules using insertUI.


This function allows you to dynamically add an arbitrarily large UI object into your app, as many times as you want, whenever you want, wherever you want. Unlike renderUI, the UI generated with insertUI is not updatable as a whole: once it’s created, it stays there. Each new call to insertUI creates more UI objects, in addition to the ones already there (all independent from one another). To update a part of the UI (ex: an input object), you must use the appropriate render function or a customized reactive function.

This function is particulaly useful when you want to build up an arbitrary list of stuff in the app’s UI. For example: you may have some data, and based on some input from the user (clicking buttons, selecting checkboxes, etc), you want to create and display a new model each time. But you don’t want to simply overwrite the previous model; you want to leave them there and continue adding new ones, so that your user can see the differences between them. If this is what you want, it’s a lot easier to use insertUI instead of renderUI, because each call to ìnsertUI creates a new DOM element, rather than updating an existing one. Besides, you also get the flexibility of when and where to insert your UI.

Here’s a simple example:

ui <- fluidPage(
  actionButton("add", "Add UI")

server <- function(input, output, session) {
  observeEvent(input$add, {
      selector = "#add",
      where = "afterEnd",
      ui = textInput(paste0("txt", input$add),
                     "Insert some text")

shinyApp(ui, server)

The selector argument determines the element relative to which your ui should be inserted (it must be a string s that is accepted by a jQuery $(s) call). Once that is determined, where refines the place to insert the ui by offering four options relative to the selector: “beforeBegin”, “afterBegin”, “beforeEnd” and “afterEnd”. The ui itself can be anything that you usually put inside your apps’s ui function. One other argument that may be good to know about, but is not demoed above, is multiple. In case your selector matches more than one element, multiple determines whether Shiny should insert the UI object relative to all matched elements or just relative to the first matched element (default).

As you can see, no special piece of code is needed inside the ui function for insertUI to work. However, you will probably always need to pair your use of insertUI with an observe/observeEvent that checks for some input change. This is necessary because, unlike the typical render functions, insertUI has no idea when it should be called (it takes no reactive dependencies).

Note that, if you are inserting multiple elements in one call, you must wrap them in either a tagList() or a tags$div() (the latter option has the advantage that you can give it an id to make it easier to reference or remove it later on). If you want to insert raw html, use ui = HTML().


This function allows you to remove any part of your UI. Once removeUI is executed on some element, it is gone forever. While it may be a particularly useful pattern to pair this with insertUI (to remove some UI you had previously inserted), there is no restriction on what you can use removeUI on. Any element that can be selected through a jQuery selector can be removed through this function.

Here’s a simple example:

ui <- fluidPage(
  actionButton("rmv", "Remove UI"),
  textInput("txt", "This is no longer useful")

server <- function(input, output, session) {
  observeEvent(input$rmv, {
      selector = "div:has(> #txt)"

shinyApp(ui, server)

As with insertUI, you also have a selector argument. This time, however, the selector determines the element(s) themselves that you want to remove. If you want to remove a Shiny input or output, note that many of these are wrapped in divs, so you may need to use a somewhat complex selector (as is indeed the case in the example above). You can avoid this if you wrap the inputs/outputs that you want to be able to remove easily in a div with an id.

You also have a multiple argument (again, not demoed here): in case your selector matches more than one element, multiple determines whether Shiny should remove all the matched elements or just the first matched element (default).

Use JavaScript to Modify the Page

You can use JavaScript/jQuery to modify the page directly. General instructions for doing so are outside the scope of this tutorial, except to mention an important additional requirement and provide a quick example. Each time you add new inputs/outputs to the DOM, or remove existing inputs/outputs from the DOM, you need to tell Shiny. Our current recommendation is:

  • Before making changes to the DOM that may include adding or removing Shiny inputs or outputs, call Shiny.unbindAll().
  • After such changes, call Shiny.bindAll().

If you are adding or removing many inputs/outputs at once, it’s fine to call Shiny.unbindAll() once at the beginning and Shiny.bindAll() at the end – it’s not necessary to put these calls around each individual addition or removal of inputs/outputs.

Here’s a short example of both non-reactive and reactive DOM manipulation:

Learn more

For more on this topic, see the following resources:

Dynamic Shiny interfaces