March 26, 2002

Understanding the X Window clipboard

Author: Benjamin D. Thomas

Chris Jones writes "Many people get confused by having the middle mouse button acting as a paste. It is very useful, but there also seems to be some confusion about the Cut/Copy/Paste items in applications and why the menus don't seem to work very well with that middle mouse button paste.

The key to understanding this is that there are two clipboards. The first clipboard is anything that is selected, e.g. selecting some text in a web browser. The contents of that clipboard are retrieved using the middle mouse button.

Choosing Cut or Copy from an application menu places whatever item was selected into the secondary clipboard, which can be retrieved using the corresponding Paste item on the destination application.

The two clipboards do not interact.

It's not exactly intuitive, but it is useful!"

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