Double doors are often used at front entrances to buildings as well as for storage closets, conference room entrances, and openings to other large spaces. Double doors include two door panels in the frame that may or may not be separated by a vertical mullion. Each door leaf may be equal in width (called an equal pair) or they may have different widths (called an unequal pair). Double door frames can be three-sided or detailed with sidelites and/or transom lites. When it comes to handing a pair of doors it is important to understand the difference between what is called the active leaf and the inactive leaf.

First of all, what is a door “leaf”?

A “leaf” is just another term for a single door. Since there are two doors in a pair, there are two “leaves” in a double door opening. We identify each leaf as either active or inactive to help with the installation of hardware as well as to help with prepping and reinforcing the frame and the doors as needed so they function properly.

Active Door Leaf vs. Inactive Door Leaf

When referring to the active leaf on double doors we are talking about the door that has the keyed lock installed in it. Many double door applications will only require one leaf in the pair to have a keyed lock. This leaf will be the “active” leaf.

Knowing which door is the active leaf also helps with determining the handing of the opening. For example, if we were standing on the keyed side of the opening and the door on the right had the locking hardware and the door is pulled open after we unlock it, we would call this pair of doors Right Hand Reverse Active (RHRA). The door on the left would be called the “inactive” leaf. (Learn more about handing).

Knowing the handing of an opening helps in the installation of the frame, the doors, and the hardware. It also plays a part in life safety codes such as the handing of doors in a path of egress.


The inactive leaf on double doors usually doesn’t have keyed locking hardware on the outside. It usually can only be opened once the active leaf has been opened. For example, on a pair of doors that goes into a storage room, the inactive leaf may have flushbolts installed that keep it secure and which are only accessible when the active leaf is opened. This inactive leaf is usually left secured unless equipment or other large material needs to move through the opening.

In another scenario, at the entrance of a shopping center or theater, the inactive leaf may have an exit device installed which can be used to exit the building, but the outside trim will be a rigid dummy lever or just have a blank “exit-only” plate. This means you can’t enter the building using the inactive door leaf. Often the exit device would be dogged during normal business hours.

If there are double doors where both leaves have keyed locks on the outside then we generally base the handing of the opening on the right door leaf (RHRA for out-swining or RHA for in-swinging). If there are no keyed locks on either door leaf, again we refer to the handing based on the right door leaf (RHRA or RHA).

Double Egress Commercial Doors

A pair of doors that are used in “cross-corridor” applications are a unique situation. Double egress door leaves swing in opposite directions allowing traffic to flow freely in both directions of travel through the opening.

Usually both doors will have an exit device installed allowing people to push their way through either door leaf. The opposite side of each door will generally have blank exit-only plates. There usually isn’t mechanical locking hardware on either door leaf in a double egress opening, so neither door can really be considered the active or inactive leaf.

When handing a double egress opening, we refer to it as either LHR,LHR or RHR, RHR (learn more about handing in this previous blog post: How to Determine the Handing of a Door)

Double Acting Commercial Doors

Double acting doors are openings where the doors swing both directions, in and out. You can think of these as “saloon” type doors. They are often used in areas where traffic is going both directions most of the time, such as in restaurant kitchens.