Sometimes it is useful to handle the clipboard and the primary selection (on *nix) systems using the command line. Let’s see some examples on how to do that using two programs,
Clipboard vs Primary Selection
On *nix systems running a graphical display through Xorg, we have the clipboard area, and the primary selection. The clipboard is where Xorg stores text (or other content) you copy from programs with
C-c, for example. The primary selection stores text that is currently selected, like when you drag the cursor over some text, which can be pasted by clicking with the mouse wheel.
About xclip and xsel
On Arch Linux I had to install both programs:
# Arch Linux pacman -S xclip xsel # Probably something like this on deb and rpm based distros: apt-get install xclip xsel dnf install xclip xsel # or yum install xclip xsel
xclip has options like
-selection, and they can be abbreviated to shorter names (like
-sel or even
-s) as long as they do not conflict to other options. For example,
-v cannot be an abbreviation because it could mean
clipboard could be abbreviated to
clip or even
c. Check the man pages/help to know more.
xclip parameters always start with a single
-, like in
xsel has long and short names. Long names use
-- like in
--output and a single
- for the short version, like in
You’ll likely want to try these commands out instead of just reading about them. For that you can use an external tool, like a text editor to copy/paste and see if your commands for copying and pasting from the command line are working as expected. Just make sure to copy and paste either using the clipboard or the primary selection accordingly. For instance, if you copy from the command line to the primary selection, make sure you attempt a paste by clicking the mouse wheel, otherwise you may mistakenly think the commands are not working.
xclipsounds like “X clipboard” and
xselsounds like “X selection”, both programs can handle both the clipboard and the primary selection.
-p as the short version for
--clipboard. Again, check the man pages for syntax details. You might also like to read link:/shell/reading-and-understanding-command-line-documentation.html[my post about man/info pages].
help/info pages. xml:id=”_copy_stdout_to_the_clipboard”>
Copy stdout of a command/program to the clipboard.
# xclip echo 'test clipboard xclip' | xclip -in -selection clipboard # xsel echo 'test clipboard xsel' | xsel --clipboard
We copied to the clipboard, so, paste somewhere else with
C-v (or whatever keyboard shortcut it is used to paste in the tool you are using).
</my> post about man/help/info pages.>
Copy STDOUT to the Primary Selection
# xclip echo 'test primary selection xclip' | xclip -selection primary # xsel echo 'test primary selection xsel' | xsel --primary # xsel defaults to ‘primary’ selection unless told otherwise. echo 'again!' | xsel
Here we copied to the primary selection. Try to paste it somewhere clicking with the mouse wheel.
To exemplify we used simple
echo commands. Of course, the source text could come from more useful/complex commands or even shell redirections.
# filter and process ip command output and copy to primary selection. ip addr show | grep -E 'inet6? ' | tr -s ' ' | cut -d' ' -f 3 | xclip -sel p # Get only the usernames from the passwd file. sed 's/:.*$//' < /etc/passwd | xsel --clipboard
Note that we used
xclip -sel p as abbreviation for
xclip -selection primary. We’ll use other abbreviations from now on for
Using Redirects Instead of Pipes
You could also do things like this:
# Using a here string. xclip -in -sel clip <<<'Using a Shell HERESTRING!' # Or a here document. xsel --clipboard <<HDOC > How > are you > doing‽ > HDOC
Or even a mix of command substitutions with other things, like a here string.
xsel <<<$(~/bin/myprogram /path/to/file)
Contents of Files
We can also get the contents of text/source files (well, any file at all) and send to the system’s clipboard or the primary selection.
cat ~/.vimrc | xclip -in -sel clip cat ~/.emacs | xsel --clipboard xsel --primary < ~/.tmux.conf xclip -in -selection < ~/.inputrc
Outputing Contents of Clipboard and Primary Selection
Okay. We now know a bunch of ways to copy data either to the clipboard or the primary selection? How do we output that data to a file, STDOUT, or somewhere else?
Let’s see some examples!
xclip -out -sel clip xsel --clipboard xslip -out -sel pri xsel --primary
Sending Contents of The Clipboard and Primary Selection to a File
Sending to a file requires shell redirections because by default the text is sent to STDOUT.
xclip -out -sel clip > file.txt xsel --clipboard > file.txt xclip -out -sel pri > main.c xsel --primary > lib.c
Sending Contents of The Clipboard Vim
Vim can read from STDIN if you start it with the with the
- argument . Therefore, to send data with xclip or xsel to vim, we do:
# using pipes xclip -out -sel clip | vim - xsel | vim - # or, with a subshell and herestrings vim - <<<$(xclip -out -sel pri) vim - <<<$(xsel --clipboard)
Using these commands to copy and paste to and from the X clipboard and primary selection is interchangeable with copying and pasting from other programs. For instance, you can copy text from your browser and use it with xclip or xsel, or you can copy text with xclip and xsel and then paste it in your browser.
And there you have it! Some examples (from which you can always expand upon) that I use myself from time to time, especially because the command line is part of my entire workflow. I hope you have enjoyed it.
And the last, lingering thing I wanted to say all along:
man xclip man xsel xclip -help xsel --help vim +help\ starting.txt