In your advice about reattaching broken email URLs, you mentioned “copying
to the clipboard.” WHAT and/or WHERE is this mysterious clipboard? Many times
as I have closed a program, the screen will pop up telling me I “have a lot of
information on the clipboard” and do I “want to save it?” I haven’t a clue where
to look to find out what/where it is.
The clipboard is another one of the small, but powerful little items that we
often take for granted.
It’s such a simple thing and yet we never talk about exactly what it is or
why one would care.
We just use it. Constantly. Every single day.
Let’s look at the clipboard.
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The Mysterious Clipboard
The clipboard isn’t so much a “thing” as it is a “place”.
But even then, “place” isn’t exactly accurate either.
The clipboard is simply a place where Windows remembers something – exactly
one thing – for you.
That’s really all it is.
And yet, as simple as it is, it’s extremely powerful.
Putting things in the clipboard
You place things into† the clipboard
using either the Copy or Cut commands in various applications
and in Windows itself.
Copy simply makes a copy of whatever it is you’ve selected and
places it in the clipboard, whereas Cut deletes your selection after
the copy is made.
Great. But, once it’s in the clipboard, what then?
Using things in the clipboard
The opposite of copying something into the clipboard is to copy something
out – the Paste operation.
Paste copies whatever is in the clipboard and places it at the
current cursor or selection location.
Copy/Cut puts things in the clipboard (wherever Windows
might keep it) and Paste copies the contents of the clipboard into
your selected destination.
The clipboard is available for many, many things.
Most commonly, you can select some text in a document using your mouse, then
right-click it and select Copy or Cut. You can then click
elsewhere in that document to Paste what you had selected into a
Windows Explorer uses the cut/copy/paste metaphor and the clipboard to allow
you to move or copy files.
But the real power of the clipboard isn’t in simple file or text manipulation.
The clipboard works between applications
The real power of the clipboard is that it’s a Windows service that’s
provided to all applications that choose to use it.
Copy text from one application and Paste it into
Copy a file in Windows Explorer and Paste it into an
email where it becomes as an attachment.
Copy a photo from a website and Paste it into a graphics
program to save or modify.
Copy a file from one drive and Paste it to another to make
a backup copy.
Hopefully, you get the idea.
Viewing the clipboard’s contents
Windows XP includes a tool called “clipbrd.exe” (located in
\Windows\system32) which, when running, will display the current contents of the
For some reason, Windows 7 doesn’t include this tool. You can copy the
clipbrd.exe tool from a Windows XP installation, if you like. If not, you’ll need
to download a third-party application to view the clipboard contents.
Important: You don’t need a clipboard viewer to use the clipboard.
Just use cut/copy/paste as described above and Windows will handle it all just
The one big limitation
The Windows clipboard can hold only one thing at a time.
When you Copy or Cut something into the clipboard, anything that was previously there is erased.
While that might sound like a serious limitation, in practice, it is not. The
clipboard is a quick, short-term storage location as you copy data from one
location to another.
While occasionally it might be nice to have more than one clipboard, and
there are tools that attempt to do this, the simple “copy/paste” metaphor is
quickly complicated in those cases to track which clipboard or which item it is
you might be operating on.
† Often you’ll hear “in” or “into” the clipboard as
well as “on” or “onto” the clipboard. “In” is much more common, but “on” more
accurately matches the physical clipboard metaphor. Both are correct.