Using the clipboard is easy, and requires no special software. Just highlight some text with your mouse or keyboard, press Ctrl+C, and you now have Copied the data TO the clipboard. If you go somewhere else and press Ctrl+V, you Paste the data FROM the clipboard.
Another key combination, Ctrl+X, does a CUT. Cut is like Copy, except that it deletes the data from the source. It’s considered a “destructive copy”. It’s like pressing Ctrl+C, then the DELETE key. Don’t use it unless you really want to destroy the original data.
Along with those keyboard shortcuts, there can also be menu entries (usually on the Edit, or right-click menus) or toolbar buttons that do the same. It’s good to know the keyboard shortcuts though, as they’re often available even when the programmer may not have provided other methods. These keys work on Windows-based PCs and also on Macintosh computers.
You can usually copy/paste within a program, and between any two programs where a common “format” can be agreed upon. For example, you can copy text from a web browser and paste into a word processor or text editor. But you will not be able to copy an image from a paint program and paste into a simple text editor like Notepad. That’s because they don’t have any way to convert the image into plain text. Here are the most common data formats:
- Text – plain text, with no font, formatting, color, images. When pasted into a word processor, will appear just as if you’d typed it from the keyboard.
- Rich Text Format – Text with formatting, such as you’d use when copying within a word processor. Contains fonts/formatting, which may clash with the formatting already present within the word processor.
- HTML – Text and images copied from browsers, also contains formatting and tables. Can seriously contaminate formatting and style within a word-processing document.
- Bitmap – Almost all image data on the clipboard uses this format, even if you copy a Jpeg, GIF, or PNG from a browser window. Bitmap is the “rosetta stone” of the clipboard, as far as images go. Screen grabs are also sent to the clipboard as Bitmap.
- Picture – The “other” image format, used for vector drawings like you make with a CAD program, or the drawing tool in Microsoft Word.
- File Pointers – these are on the clipboard when you “copy” files or folders within Windows Explorer. This lets you “paste” into another folder, which causes Windows to copy or move the files. Note that the files themselves aren’t really on the clipboard – it’s just a “pointer” that describes where the files are. It would take far too long, to actually place the contents of the files onto the clipboard.
The clipboard is simply a shared block of memory, and while it can contain the same chunk of data represented in a variety of formats, it can only hold one item at a time. So if you copy something that you want to paste, you need to paste it before you copy something else. Otherwise, your first item will be overwritten, and lost. This limitation can be overcome by the use of a Clipboard Extender, such as ClipMate.