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Friday, April 16, 2021

Access Clipboard Contents Using Xclip and Xsel In Linux

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In this guide, we are going to learn what Xclip and Xsel programs are, and how to manipulate and access Clipboard contents using Xclip and Xsel programs in Linux.

What are Xclip and Xsel programs?

Xclip is a command line interface to X selections i.e. Clipboard. Xclip reads the data from one or more files and makes the data available as an X selection for pasting the data into X applications. If no files are specified, it reads data from the standard input. It can also print the X selection to the standard output.


In Linux, the clipboards are known as “Selections” and there are three types of clipboards available in X11 window system. They are PRIMARY, SECONDARY, and CLIPBOARD. For more details about Clipboard, check this link.

Xsel is a command line X11 selection and clipboard manipulation tool. It is used to access X clipboard and selection buffers in Linux and Unix-like operating systems.

With the help of Xclip and Xsel programs, we can easily imitate the functionality of pbcopy and pbpaste commands in Linux. For those wondering, pbcopy and pbpaste are used to manipulate clipboards and they are exclusively available only for Mac OS X platform.

Install Xclip and Xsel in Linux

Xclip and Xsel programs are available in the official repositories of most modern Linux distributions.

On Alpine Linux, run the following command to install Xclip and Xsel:

$ sudo apk add xclip xsel

To install Xclip and Xsel in Arch Linux and its variants like Manjaro Linux, run:

$ sudo pacman xclip xsel

On RHEL, CentOS:

$ sudo dnf install epel-release
$ sudo dnf install xclip xsel

On Fedora:

$ sudo dnf xclip xsel

On Debian, Ubuntu, Pop!_OS, Linux Mint:

$ sudo apt install xclip xsel

On openSUSE:

$ sudo zypper install xclip xsel

Manipulate and access clipboard contents using Xclip and Xsel

Even though Xclip and Xsel are similar programs and does the same job, their usage is slightly different from each other. First, let us discuss the usage of Xclip program.

1. Xclip command examples

Xclip handles the PRIMARY, SECONDARY Selections, plus the system Clipboard.

1.1. Copy data to clipboard using Xclip

To copy the output of a command to clipboard using Xclip, run:

$ echo "Welcome To OSTechNix" | xclip -selection clipboard

You can also use this short version of the above command:

$ echo "Welcome To OSTechNix" | xclip -sel c
Copy the output of a Linux command to clipboard using Xclip

Here, -sel represents the -selection and c represents clipboard.

As per the above command, Xclip copied the output from the echo command i.e. “Welcome To OSTechNix”, to the X11 primary selection area (i.e. clipboard). Similarly, you can copy/send output of any other command to the clipboard. Here is another example:

$ uname -r | xclip -sel c

In our above examples, we copied copy the output from stdin into clipboard buffer. What about the contents of a file? It is also possible.

To copy file contents into clipboard using Xsel command, run:

$ xclip -selection clipboard < ostechnix.txt

Or shortly use this:

$ xclip -sel c < ostechnix.txt

The above commands will not display contents of the files. Instead, they will only copy the file contents to system clipboard. You can read more details about copying file contents into clipboard in this link.

1.2. Paste data from clipboard to console using Xclip

We know now how to copy the data from standard output and a file to clipboard. How to retrieve the copied data from clipboard? That’s simple! Run the following command to paste the contents of the system clipboard to the console:

$ xclip -o -sel clip


$ xclip -o -sel c

If you want to paste the contents of the X11 primary selection area to the console, run:

$ xclip -o

1.3. Paste data from clipboard to file using Xclip

Instead of displaying (pasting) the contents of clipboard, you can also directly paste the contents of the system clipboard or X11 primary selection area into a file like below:

$ xclip -o -sel clip > output_file.txt


$ xclip -o > output_file.txt

The single ">" mark will overwrite the existing contents of the output file. Instead of overwriting, you can simply append data into the output file using double ">>" symbols.

$ xclip -o >> output_file.txt

For more details, refer Xclip manual page:

$ man xclip

2. Xsel command examples

By default, Xsel operates on X PRIMARY selection unless you exclusively specify the X selection.

2.1. Copy data to clipboard using Xsel

To copy the output of a command into clipboard using Xsel, run:

$ echo "Welcome To OSTechNix" | xsel -ib

The above commands reads from STDIN and save it to the clipboard; as if Ctrl + C.

To copy the file contents to clipboard, run:

$ cat input_file.txt | xsel -ib

Here, i represents input and b represents clipboard.

You can also use the following commands:

$ xsel --clipboard < input_file.txt

Or, shortly use this:

$ xsel -b < input_file.txt

Again, -b represents clipboard.

Copy data to clipboard using Xsel
Copy data to clipboard using Xsel

2.2. Paste data from clipboard to console using Xsel

To paste or display the contents of the clipboard in the Terminal (equivalent to Ctrl + V), run:

$ xsel -ob

Here, o represents output and b represents clipboard.

2.3. Paste data from clipboard to file using Xsel

To paste the clipboard’s contents into a file:

$ xsel -ob > output_file.txt

If you don’t want to overwrite the existing contents of the output file, simply append the data using double ">>" symbols like below:

$ xsel -ob >> output_file.txt

If you want to paste the contents of X11 primary selection into the terminal (equivalent to a mouse middle-click), use -p (PRIMARY selection) instead -b (Clipboard):

$ xsel -op

2.4. Clear clipboard using Xsel

To clear the contents of the clipboard, run:

$ xsel -cb

For more details, refer Xsel manual page:

$ man xsel

Hope this helps.

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