How to Access the Clipboard in My Computer

Image Credit: apomares/E+/GettyImages

The computer clipboard is the virtual storage area where content goes when you copy or cut it while it waits to be pasted. You can see what's in your clipboard using tools built into your operating system.

How a Computer Clipboard Works

Most modern operating systems let you cut, copy and paste text, images and other content to and from a virtual storage space called the clipboard. You can copy material from one program and paste it elsewhere in the same program or copy it from one program to another.

Cutting works the same as copying except it also deletes the material from its original location. You can even cut, copy and paste files from one place on your disks to another.

Some operating systems also enable you to see what's in the clipboard without having to paste it. Generally you can only have one thing in the clipboard at a time. If you copy or cut something else, the clipboard is overwritten.

Where's My Clipboard on Windows?

On Windows XP, you can use an included clipboard viewer program to view what's in your Windows clipboard. If you're on a later version of Windows, that program is not available, but you may be able to install the clipboard XP viewer on a later version of Windows by copying it from a machine running XP.

You can also download various free or paid clipboard viewer utilities for later versions of Windows (see Resources). One simply called FreeClipboardViewer enables you to see what's currently on your clipboard. Another called Clipdiary also stores a log of what you've copied and pasted in case you need to access something you've overwritten on the clipboard.

Make sure you trust programs you give access to your clipboard, in case you use it to store any sensitive data.

Mac Clipboard Viewer

If you're using a Mac, there's a built-in clipboard viewer you can use to see what's on your clipboard without having to paste.

Go to the "Finder" app and click the "Edit" menu. Then click "Show Clipboard." A pop-up window will display the contents of your clipboard.

Like Windows, the Mac clipboard only stores one thing at a time, but you can get third party tools to track your clipboard history (see Resources). A program called "Paste" will log your keyboard history, storing it on cloud servers so you can access it across computers. Another, called "Unclutter," lets you store your keyboard history and organized notes on your Mac.

references & resources