A Brief History of The Clipboard

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You’ve got the physical clipboard that has been around for generations, but today we are talking about the computer clipboard and how you can use this to your advantage. You probably use the humble clipboard hundreds of times a day without even thinking about it. It’s become an integral part of using a computer or smartphone. Every time you copy, cut, or paste something you’re using the clipboard, whether it’s a URL, picture, or word on your screen. Life would be far less convenient without this function. Just imagine having to type out lengthy URLs whenever you wanted to follow a link instead of just being able to copy and paste them! Imagine not being able to copy and paste paragraphs in a long Word document and instead having to re-type them!


What is the clipboard?

The term ‘clipboard’ is a metaphor that refers to a physical clipboard, similar to one you might have at home. There’s no real record of where the term originated, but it’s easy to see why it came about. Clipboards are used to temporarily hold pieces of paper whilst they’re needed, and once you’re done with that piece of paper you simply unclip it and put another piece in. This is kind of what a clipboard on your computer is doing.

On your computer, the clipboard is a data buffer where data you copy is stored temporarily before you paste it elsewhere. Basic clipboards can only store one element at a time, so each time you copy something, the previous item you copied is erased. This means you can’t retrieve the data you copied before if you overwrite it with a new copy action.

What is clipboard history?

Bearing in mind you might accidentally overwrite a previous copy, it might be a good idea to have some method of accessing a history of what you’ve copied and pasted over a period of time. Where is a clipboard when you need it? Thankfully, third party applications exist that can provide this function.

A clipboard history application will provide you with a history of everything you have copied, including various formats (text, images, etc.). These applications are known as clipboard managers, and there are a whole host of them out there. With a clipboard manager you can copy data you’d previously overwritten with a new copy back to your clipboard, paste anything you’ve copied straight from the clipboard manager, search previous copies, and find out which program you copied the data from in the first place.

All of this is incredibly useful if you copy and paste things a lot or you’re forgetful! It can save you lots of time and stress if, for example, you copy a large section of text from a document to paste elsewhere, and accidentally copy something else before you’ve pasted it.