Navigating Clipboard Operations with ‘pbcopy’ and ‘pbpaste’ on macOS

‘pbcopy’ and ‘pbpaste’ are two powerful commands available in the macOS terminal that allow you to interact with the clipboard directly from the command line. These commands make it easy to transfer data between the terminal and other applications. In this article, we’ll explore how to use these commands to streamline your workflow.

The ‘pbcopy’ Command

‘pbcopy’ is used to copy text from the standard input into the clipboard. The basic syntax of ‘pbcopy’ is as follows:

command | pbcopy

In this example, the output of command is piped (|) into ‘pbcopy’, which places it into the clipboard.

Here’s a practical example: if you want to copy the contents of a file named ‘example.txt’ into the clipboard, you would use:

cat example.txt | pbcopy

Now, the contents of ‘example.txt’ are in your clipboard and can be pasted into any application.

The ‘pbpaste’ Command

‘pbpaste’ is the counterpart to ‘pbcopy’. It fetches text from the clipboard and sends it to the standard output. The basic syntax of ‘pbpaste’ is as follows:

pbpaste > file

In this example, ‘pbpaste’ takes the current contents of the clipboard and redirects it (>) into file.

For instance, if you want to paste the contents of the clipboard into a file named ‘output.txt’, you would use:

pbpaste > output.txt

Now, ‘output.txt’ contains the text that was in your clipboard.

Combining ‘pbcopy’ and ‘pbpaste’

‘pbcopy’ and ‘pbpaste’ can be used together for many purposes, such as duplicating the contents of a file. Here’s an example:

cat example.txt | pbcopy
pbpaste > duplicate.txt

In this example, the contents of ‘example.txt’ are copied to the clipboard, then pasted into ‘duplicate.txt’.


‘pbcopy’ and ‘pbpaste’ are two incredibly useful commands that allow macOS users to interact with the clipboard directly from the terminal. Whether you’re copying text from a file, pasting content into a new document, or transferring data between applications, these commands offer a quick and efficient way to handle these tasks.

By integrating ‘pbcopy’ and ‘pbpaste’ into your command line workflow, you can save time and increase your productivity in managing and manipulating text on your macOS system.


Whilst building web applications, Daniel also sets up web servers from scratch because he has yet to find the perfect hosting solution. His philosophy is “Why settle, when you can build it better yourself?”

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