Dynamic Dropdown Fields in ACF

Advanced Custom Fields is a powerful tool for building metaboxes, theme settings, custom blocks, and more.

The acf/load_field filter lets you customize a field before it loads. I often use it for dynamically populating dropdown lists.

These code snippets can go in your theme’s functions.php file or a Core Functionality plugin.

Selecting an icon

On my homepage I have an Industries block with an icon for each industry.

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The icons are stored as SVGs in my theme’s /assets/icons/category directory. In the ACF block metabox, the select dropdown dynamically lists all icons in that directory.

I have multiple groups of icons in the /assets/icons/ directory. I name my ACF field dynamic_icon_{group} to specify which group of icons I want. In the above example, I want icons from the “category” group, so the field name is dynamic_icon_category.

 * Dynamically select icon in ACF
 * @link https://www.billerickson.net/dynamic-dropdown-fields-in-acf/
 * @author Bill Erickson
 * @param array $field, the field settings array 
 * @return array $field
function be_acf_dynamic_icons( $field ) {

	if( 0 !== strpos( $field['name'], 'dynamic_icon_' ) )
		return $field;

	$type = str_replace( 'dynamic_icon_', '', $field['name'] );
	$icons = be_get_theme_icons( $type );

	$field['choices'] = [ 0 => '(None)' ];
	foreach( $icons as $icon ) {
		$field['choices'][ $icon ] = $icon;

	return $field;
add_filter( 'acf/load_field', 'be_acf_dynamic_icons' );

 * Get Theme Icons
 * Refresh cache by bumping CHILD_THEME_VERSION
function be_get_theme_icons( $directory = 'utility' ) {
	$icons = get_option( 'be_theme_icons_' . $directory );
	$version = get_option( 'be_theme_icons_' . $directory . '_version' );
	if( empty( $icons ) || ( defined( 'CHILD_THEME_VERSION' ) && version_compare( CHILD_THEME_VERSION, $version ) ) ) {
		$icons = scandir( get_stylesheet_directory() . '/assets/icons/' . $directory );
		$icons = array_diff( $icons, array( '..', '.' ) );
		$icons = array_values( $icons );
		if( empty( $icons ) )
			return $icons;
		// remove the .svg
		foreach( $icons as $i => $icon ) {
			$icons[ $i ] = substr( $icon, 0, -4 );
		update_option( 'be_theme_icons_' . $directory, $icons );
		if( defined( 'CHILD_THEME_VERSION' ) )
			update_option( 'be_theme_icons_' . $directory . '_version', CHILD_THEME_VERSION );
	return $icons;

To display the icon, we use the ea_icon() function in our theme (see here).

$icon = get_field( 'icon' );
if( !empty( $icon ) )
	echo ea_icon( array( 'icon' => $icon, 'group' => 'category' ) );

More specific field targeting

The acf/load_field filter runs for every field. In my example above this makes sense because my code can apply to multiple different field names (dynamic_icon_category, dynamic_icon_utility…).

But if you’re only looking to modify a specific field, you can use one of the more specific filters:

  • acf/load_field Applies to all fields.
  • acf/load_field/type={$type} Applies to all fields of a specific type.
  • acf/load_field/name={$name} Applies to all fields of a specific name.
  • acf/load_field/key={$key} Applies to all fields of a specific key.

Bill Erickson

Bill Erickson is a freelance WordPress developer and a contributing developer to the Genesis framework. For the past 14 years he has worked with attorneys, publishers, corporations, and non-profits, building custom websites tailored to their needs and goals.

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Reader Interactions


  1. Cisco says

    Hi Bill,

    I’m starting with ACF to create Gutemberg Blocks. My goal is to create a block where the editor can create a list of resource links. These links can be external or internal resources (for this last one, it can be a link to a page or a link to a media from the library). I’m trying to find a way to dynamically display the relevant icon depending of the file format of the resource (usually .pdf, .doc or .xls) and also a different icon if the resource is external or internal. What is the best approach ? Doing it conditioning with ACF or programming with a php function ? Thanks in advance if you have a clue or a resource (internal or external i’m ok 🙂

    • Bill Erickson says

      I’d use PHP code in your theme to do that. In ACF you’d probably have a dropdown with three options: page link, media file, or external link. If they select a media file, ACF will give you the attachment ID and you can use get_post_mime_type() to figure out what type of attachment it is (more information).

  2. Daniel Florian says

    Hi Bill,
    Very new to ACF. Trying to achieve a dynamic select field and not sure where to start. All the info I can find refers to pulling data from an existing ‘Options’ page – which I don’t have (or need – I think 😉 )
    I want to pull data directly from a database table (i.e.: wp_student_meta) then populate the dropdown based on what is available in certain columns of that table

    The SQL query would look something like:
    SELECT * FROM ‘wp_student_meta’ WHERE ‘key’ = ‘dojang’

    Can you give me any idea how to achieve this (or point me to a site/tutorial on achieving the desired result)

    Appreciate any help you can offer

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