How to View the Clipboard on a Mac

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The Mac clipboard is a virtual data storage spot for information you copy and paste on a Mac computer. You can view what's in your clipboard without having to paste it using the Mac's built-in clipboard viewer. If you want to see a more extensive clipboard history, you can download a third-party program.

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Copy and Paste on a Mac

Like most modern operating systems, Apple's macOS enables you to copy text, images or other data within various programs. You can then paste the data elsewhere in the same program or in another program entirely. There's also the option to cut data, which deletes it from its initial location and makes it available for paste.

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When you copy or cut something, it is placed on the Mac clipboard. Usually, only one thing can be on the clipboard at a time.

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You copy, cut and paste by right-clicking or control-clicking or by using the "Edit" menu in most programs. You can also memorize the keyboard shortcuts Command-X for cut, Command-C for copy and Command-V for paste. Microsoft Windows uses similar shortcuts with the Control key instead of the Command key.

Viewing the Clipboard

If you want to know what's in the clipboard, click on the "Finder" app or the desktop and then select the "Edit" menu followed by "Show Clipboard." A window opens and displays whatever is currently on the clipboard.

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You can also view what's in the clipboard by pasting it, but that can be risky if you're not sure what's in it and how it will interact with other programs. You can always overwrite the clipboard contents by copying or cutting new data.

A Longer History

Add-on programs enable you to store a longer clipboard history. A program called Paste keeps a log of everything you copy to the clipboard. Another, called Unclutter, has a similar function and also lets you store notes and files for quick access without cluttering your desktop.

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Killing and Yanking

There's a little-known second clipboard for text that's available in many macOS programs. To cut text and place it on this clipboard, you use the keyboard shortcut Control-K. To paste, use the shortcut Command-Y.

These terms are a bit odd, though they originated in the Unix text editor Emacs, which is still available for macOS.

Separate Clipboards

Some programs maintain their own clipboard structures that are accessible through their own keyboard shortcuts. This is especially common with programming text editors, like the common free Unix tools Emacs and Vim.

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