How to Use the Clipboard
(to Cut, Copy, and Paste)

By Walton Dell
October 18, 1997

Cut: (Click the "Edit" menu, then click the "Cut" command)

Copy: ("Edit" menu, "Copy" command)

Paste: ("Edit" menu, "Paste" command)

The clipboard is a convenient tool you can use to move or copy information within your computer. PCs and Macs both have it. The clipboard is built into the operating system on your computer (e.g. Windows 95), and most programs support it. To use the clipboard, you first tell a program to "copy" (or "cut") some data to the clipboard, then you can tell another program (or the same one) to "paste" the data.

You normally do not see the clipboard in action, but for learning purposes, you can use a program called "Clipboard Viewer". This program will show you whatever is currently on the clipboard. You can find this program under Accessories (click Start, click Programs, click Accessories, click Clipboard Viewer).

The clipboard can store many types of data, including text, formatted text, graphics, audio, whole files, etc. Most programs know about text, but not all programs know about the other data types.

Computers use "select-then-do". This means that before you can do anything with any data you must first select it. Therefore, to add text to the clipboard you must first select the text, then copy or cut the data to the clipboard. If you copy the data, it will remain in your document, but if you cut the data, it will not remain in your document (it will be moved to the clipboard). Only one chunk of data can be on the clipboard at a time. As soon as you cut or copy something new, the old data will be replaced.

Once you have data on the clipboard, you can paste it into any program that knows about that type of data. The data will remain on the clipboard until it is replaced or until you turn off the computer. This could be a security risk if important data were copied to the clipboard on a public computer! (The next user might paste the confidential information into their document.) The data is not removed from the clipboard when you paste it. This way you can easily paste the data many times.

Did you know: With Windows, you can even cut & paste (or copy & paste) files! Just select one or more files, click cut, select the location you want to move the files to, then click paste to move the files.


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