Clipboard Managers

May 19, 2020 - By

The clipboard is one of the most under-appreciated functions of any computer; when you paste anything it’s the clipboard you have to thank. In my earliest days of computer use that ctrl+v felt like magic, and today it’s a priceless tool without-which I would be lost.

Have you ever wished you could paste more than the last thing copied? The category of tool that unlocks this is a “clipboard manager”-and I argue that anyone who uses a computer for daily for multiple hours needs to master one.

Clipboard Management on Windows

I happen to be a MacOS user so will be demonstrating that with a paid application called Alfred App, but if you are on Windows the great news is that there is one built in – just a setting away. To activate it hit the winkey and type “clipboard” to find the Clipboard Settings and set the toggle to “On”.

I give a short Windows demo in this video:

Clipboard Management on Mac with Alfred

There are other Mac clipboard manager apps I haven’t tried (Paste App, CopyClip, Flycut), the core functionality is probably all the same. I can’t imagine how one would improve upon Alfred App’s in functionality, but there is something to be said about price and single-purpose apps. Alfred itself does a lot more, some may see that as a drawback.

Read below for details about how history, merging, and penultimate-paste are awesome; or watch in video format here:

Clipboard history

The first and most obvious use is clipboard history, showing the last few dozen copied things, including text, code, images etc. When I hit the hotkey Alfred pops up: I can scroll through or use a keyboard shortcut to paste. I can also start typing the word “image” or anything contained in the clipboard to fuzzy search. I use this constantly.

Alfred clipboard history prompt featuring examples of code, images, and text recently copied.
A screenshot of the clipboard history

Copy merging

Ever find yourself needing to copy/paste a lot of URLs or some other information? With a single clipboard there’s a lot of switching, with clipboard history there is tedious manual clipboard management. The solution is to copy multiple items to the clipboard as one. To do this I copy the first thing as normal (cmd+c), then all subsequent copies are done by double-tapping the C to append then new selection to the former. The next paste will contain everything done in this way.

A screenshot of the Alfred settings UI for Clipboard merging
Double-tapping C to copy adds new text to current clipboard items

Clipboard Workflows

The clipboard is one of the many system operations that can be manipulated in workflows as well. To that end I have made one in particular that I can’t live without. I call it “Penultimate Paste”. It’s not a word you hear daily; something penultimate is “The next to the last” – and so, when I hit my hotkey for this function it will paste the second last thing. In this way I can paste key/value pairs (like username and password) with ease, and in those not-so-rare-moments when you make a pasting error (like you think you’re about to paste one thing, but get another) the thing you really want to paste is almost always the penultimate! I keep this workflow on my rarely-used Github account in this repo.

See the video for demonstrations of all three of these features.

System upgrade = Operator upgrade

Not only is this useful for key/value pair pasting (like a username & password), or multitasking-mistake correcting (you go to paste a hex-color you know you just copied but instead you paste the URL to a gif because you got distracted on Slack), but using a clipboard manager for the past couple of years has actually changed some subconscious-level decisions I make on the computer.

I now find myself taking clipboard-screenshots for reference (then I bring up my clipboard manager, type “image” and arrow through the history), or copy-merging code snippets that I can bring into Sublime Text to filter with some Sublime-Parcour.

Simply put, a clipboard manager gets your computer doing some of the heavy-lifting on something it excels at (remembering things), and frees you up to do the problem solving and creative work you are focussed on. It also makes the clipboard-metaphor more apt, since a clipboard usually holds more than a single piece of information!

Categorized in:

This post was written by ArleyM