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5.13. Simple Copy and Paste in xterm

You can use the pointer to select text to copy and paste within the same xterm window or between xterm windows. You don't need to be in a text editor to copy and paste. You can also copy or paste text to and from the command line, between the command line and a file, etc.

There are several ways to select (copy) text; all require you to use the pointer. You can select a passage of text, or you can select text by individual words or lines.

When you select text, it is highlighted and copied into global memory from which you can paste it into any xterm window. Regardless of the number of xterm windows you're running, you can store only one selection in memory at a time. However, you can paste that selection as many times as you like. When you make another selection, the new text replaces the previous selection in memory.

Table 5-2 summarizes all of the text-selection methods.

Table 5-2. Button combinations to select text for copying

To select

Do this


Click the first button at the start of the selection and the third button at the end of the selection. Or at the beginning of the selection, hold down the first button; drag the pointer to the end of the desired text; release the button.


Double-click the first button anywhere on the word.


Triple-click the first button anywhere on the line.

To clear the highlighting, move the pointer off the selection, and click the first button anywhere else in the window. Note, however, that the text still remains in memory until you make another selection.

Of the two methods for selecting a passage, the first is generally easier. Hypothetically, you can select a passage of any length; in practice, we've found there to be limitations. The size of the window limits the amount of text you can highlight in one action. You can extend a selection beyond the parameters of a window. Copying an extremely long selection, however, doesn't seem to work reliably. Also, when pasting a long selection, the text can become garbled.

You can paste text into any xterm window, either onto the command line or into a text file you're editing. In both cases, move the pointer into the window, and click the second button. The text will be pasted; in other words, it will appear on the screen, just as if you typed it.

WARNING: To paste into an open text file, the editing program must be in insert mode. (If not, when pasted, the selection may be interpreted as a stream of editor commands, such as in vi. The act of pasting the word "selection" in a vi editor not in insert mode would be to ignore everything up until the i, which would place vi into insert mode, and then the last three letters would be inserted into the buffer.)

--VQ and SJC

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