For example,

Say I want to list the contents of a folder and directly paste them into a chat window for a friend to see.

I realize I could do ls > filename.txt to create a file (filename.txt) with those contents; I'd then have to open or print the file and manually select and copy the text block (which can be annoying/tedious.) I clearly could also select and copy the output of ls directly from within the terminal window.

It would be much faster/easier to simply pipe standard output to the clipboard.

What terminal command allows me to do this?


This can be done with either xsel or xclip command line utilities. Since neither program comes with Ubuntu by default you'll need to first install them via Ubuntu Software or the terminal. Here's how in the terminal (but remember you only need one of these two.)

sudo apt install xsel
sudo apt install xclip

Now some examples. If you want to copy the output of ls to the clipboard here's what you'd do:

With xsel:

ls | xsel -ib

With xclip:

ls | xclip -sel clip

This can of course be utilized for other terminal commands as well. Let's say you want to paste your network info into a help forum.

With xsel:

sudo lshw -C network | xsel -ib

With xclip:

sudo lshw -C network | xclip -sel clip

Make this even easier with a new bash alias!

Edit your ~/.bash_aliases file (if it doesn't exist yet create it first with touch ~/.bash_aliases)

Then add one (depending on which program you decided to go with) of the following:

alias copy='xclip -sel clip'


alias copy='xsel -ib'

Then save and close.

Now (after restarting your terminal) you can send standard output to the clipboard just by piping it to 'copy' (or whatever you decide to name your new alias)

For example:

ls | copy
  • 1
    With newer Ubuntu versions, you should use apt. So sudo apt install xsel or sudo apt install xclip. – wisbucky Feb 25 '17 at 0:55
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    Thanks for the answer but do you know anything just for Linux terminal? – Mohamad Mar 29 '17 at 8:15
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    @jpaugh. Compare the Ubuntu package management documentation for 16.04 vs 14.04. In 16.04, it only mentions apt and not apt-get. You can still use apt-get, but they're trying to encourage people to use apt. – wisbucky Sep 5 '17 at 20:12
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    You don't have to restart the terminal; you can just source ~/.bash_aliases – Rob K Nov 14 '17 at 19:30
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    @Mohamad These are for running inside an X server (as it provides the clipboard functionality). If you don't have that, you need to do it in your terminal emulator. How to do that, depends on the actual software you are using, as there is no de-facto standard for that. – Thorbjørn Ravn Andersen Feb 26 '18 at 12:00

If you are attempting to copy to the clipboard using Ubuntu in Windows Subsystem for Linux (WSL) xsel or xclip will not work unless you are using X Windows as clipboard is only for grahpical. However, to pipe terminal standard output to the clipboard in WSL Ubuntu you can use clip.exe. You can then paste into the WSL Ubuntu terminal with standard paste commands and the copied text will be available in Windows as well. For example,

pwd | clip.exe 

will copy the current working directory to the (Windows) clipboard.

This search result appears at the top when looking for ways to copy/paste text in WSL so I think it is worthwhile to mention this so readers do not needlessly install xsel or xclip in Ubuntu and instead use clip.exe.

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