Command Line to Clipboard

Update: Script has been updated to add pipe support. Thanks to Nathan who allowed me to use his improvements.

It’s really something to be learning Linux. The more I learn about Linux the more I learn it’s about manipulating letters and numbers (well, this is more programming than anything but Linux is a lot about that). Bash I’m discovering is great; I’m just getting into it and now have made things a good deal easier by learning how to copy and paste text from the command line via the Xorg server clipboard. Here is a couple commands that can do it with examples, following them are a couple bash scripts that make this easy as can beasy.

The Programs

xsel and xclip are command line programs that can redirect the contents of the Xorg server clipboard. The Xorg server has two clipboards: the common right-click > Copy, and one for the middle-mouse click. For those that don’t know of it yet, the middle-click clipboard allows quick copy and pasting without having to enter a menu or using Ctrl + v. Anytime you select text on the Xorg server there is a separate register that records this text, then clicking the middle-mouse button (sometimes called the mouse button three [usually done by clicking down the scroll wheel] will paste the text. The Xorg server defines the the middle-click clipboard as primary and the right-click clipboard as secondary.


Here are the basics of using xclip. xclip, I prefer over xsel because I have found that xsel can have problems pasting to java apps.

xclip can be used in a variety of ways. First, for example, it can be piped to:

echo "hi" | xclip -selection clipboard

This will copy to the standard clipboard. For abbreviation, you can use c instead of clipboard. You can specify primary or p here too to copy to the middle-mouse button, but isn’t necessary as this is the default for xclip.

echo "hello" | xclip

To direct a file to xclip the -in or -out options are needed:

xclip -in -selection c <filename>
xclip -out -selection c <filename>

Which will respectively put a file into the clipboard, and write to a file from the clipboard contents.

To make the process quicker, I’ve created a couple scripts to automate the tasks called cb-in and cb-out and can be used like a standard command:

cb-in pack 
 File pack copied to the clipboard




To copy to the context-menu clipboard:

xsel --clipboard < /etc/fstab

To copy a text to the middle mouse button clipboard:

xsel < /etc/fstab

xsel can be piped too:

echo "a-bit-of-text" | xsel -b
cat /etc/make.conf | xsel -b

To output directly to the terminal:

xsel --clipboard

And to redirect and append to a file:

xsel --clipboard > Baada-Boom.txt
xsel --clipboard >> ~/.Baada-Boom

cp2clip (xsel)

# cp2clip - copy to the clipboard the contents of a file

# Program name from it's filename

# Text color variables
bldblu='\e[1;34m'         # blue
bldred='\e[1;31m'         # red
bldwht='\e[1;37m'         # white
txtbld=$(tput bold)       # bold
txtund=$(tput sgr 0 1)    # underline
txtrst='\e[0m'            # text reset


# Display usage if full argument isn't given
if [[ -z $filename ]]; then
    echo " $prog <filename> - copy a file to the clipboard"

# Check that file exists
if [[ ! -f $filename ]]; then
  echo -e "$warn File ${txtund}$filename${txtrst} doesn't exist"

# Check user is not root (root doesn't have access to user Xorg server)
if [[ $(whoami) == root ]]; then
  echo -e "$warn Must be regular user to copy a file to the clipboard"

# Copy file to clipboard, give feedback
xsel --clipboard < "$filename"
echo -e "$pass ${txtund}"${filename##*/}"${txtrst} copied to clipboard"

clippaste (xsel)

# clippaste - Paste contents of clipboard to file in terminal.
# use 'xclip -out -selection primary' for middle click clipboard

# Program name from it's filename

# Text color variables
bldblu='\e[1;34m'         # blue
bldred='\e[1;31m'         # red
bldwht='\e[1;37m'         # white
txtbld=$(tput bold)       # bold
txtund=$(tput sgr 0 1)    # underline
txtrst='\e[0m'            # text reset

pasteinfo="clipboard contents"

# usage if argument isn't given
if [[ -z $filename ]]; then
  echo "clippaste <filename> - paste contents of context-menu clipboard to file"

# check if file exists, prompt to append or override, else create new
if [[ -f $filename ]]; then
  echo -en "$warn File ${txtund}$filename${txtrst} already exists - (${txtbld}e${txtrst})xit, (${txtbld}a${txtrst})ppend, (${txtbld}o${txtrst})verwrite: "
  read edit
  case "$edit" in
    [aA] )  xsel --clipboard >> $filename
            echo -e "$pass File ${txtund}$filename${txtrst} appended with clipboard contents"
    [oO] )  xsel --clipboard > $filename
            echo -e "$pass File ${txtund}$filename${txtrst} overwrote with clipboard contents"
    * )     exit
    esac; else
    xsel --clipboard >> $filename
    echo -e "$pass File ${txtund}"$filename"${txtrst} created with clipboard contents"

About Gen2ly

<3's linux

Posted on 2008-02-22, in Command Line, Linux, Script. Bookmark the permalink. 43 Comments.

  1. Colin Zwiebel

    Great to find out about xsel! Unfortunately two of you examples are wrong:
    echo “a-bit-of-text” | xsel -c
    cat /etc/make.conf | xsel -c
    do not copy “a-bit-of-text” or /etc/make.conf to the clipboard. They should be written:
    echo “a-bit-of-text” | xsel –clipboard
    cat /etc/make.conf | xsel –clipboard
    or, as I prefer, with the -b flag (equivalent to –clipboard, 8 characters shorter)
    echo “a-bit-of-text” | xsel -b
    cat /etc/make.conf | xsel -b

    The xsel -c flag does exist and is useful. It clears the clipboard. Forexample:
    xsel -c -b
    Or, if you want to clear the X Server clipboard (middle click clipboard), simply type
    xsel -c


  2. Huh, hmm that did work the last time I used it. Wonder if xsel option have changed since, looks like it does. Thanks for the tip Colin. I use xclip now so it’s a good time to update post.

  3. Awesome, thanks for the info

    I really need this to copy between the primary and the clipboard for apps which don’t know about the primary eg netbeans.

  4. Very nice Gen2ly, thanks for the idea!

    # Paste the contents of the clipboard to a file.


    if [[ ! -z $FILENAME ]]; then
    echo “clipb-pasted into $FILENAME “;
    xsel -b > $FILENAME;
    chmod 755 $FILENAME;
    echo “no filenam declareted.”

  5. This is awesome, thakns so much!

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  7. If you use xclip in conjunction with truecrypt you should be careful and use
    truecrypt .pass /media/pass
    cat /media/pass/password | xclip
    truecrypt -d .sec

    instead of
    xclip -in /media/pass/password

    because otherwise xclip will lock the file and you will get the following error message, when truecrypt tries to unmount the volume:
    umount: /media/pass: device is busy.

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