Usually, one would copy-paste by selecting something with a mouse or keyboard, and then either right-click with the mouse, or using the usual keyboard shortcuts:
- Linux: Ctrl + C and then Ctrl + V
- macOS: ⌘ + C and then ⌘ + V
to copy-paste from one window or tab to another. So why would one want to copy-paste using a command line?
Sometimes, what you want to paste is quite a bit larger than a single word or a line, and may be produced by another command-line tool, where copy-pasting its entire output is combersome and error-prone, and you’re bound to miss a few words or lines especially if you have to scroll back in the output.
On macOS, you can use the tools
pbpaste as follows:
$ cat my-file.txt | pbcopy
and now you can paste it anywhere, e.g., using ⌘ + V in
another app. Or, you can use it as a temporary buffer between commands and get
the output from a previous
pbcopy command by using its parallel
$ pbpaste | grep "..."
You can also mix-and match: first copy with ⌘ + C, and
then paste with
Overall, these are very handy tools. Linux doesn’t come with these tools out-of-the-box, so how could we get the same functionality?
Turns out, these already exist, just not as single commands, but we can create
aliases. In fact, there are multiple tools that implement this functionality,
so we have our choice of using
alias pbcopy='xclip -selection clipboard' alias pbpaste='xclip -selection clipboard -o'
or, alternatively, using
alias pbcopy='xsel --clipboard --input' alias pbpaste='xsel --clipboard --output'
If you don’t have either of these tools, you can install them via your package manager, e.g., on Ubuntu, it’s as easy as:
$ sudo apt install xclip xsel
Of course, these aliases will only work for you in your interactive shells; if
you want to be able to use them in scripts, you probably want to create small
shell script wrappers and put them in a directory that’s in your
$HOME/bin, assuming that’s where you keep your miscellaneous tools and
Here’s a sample
#!/bin/sh xsel --clipboard --input
And similarly for
#!/bin/sh xsel --clipboard --output
Happy copy-pasting on the command line!