I got a file on desktop, file name is ded.html. To copy the file, I click the file and press cmd+c.

Now how would I do the same thing using terminal ?


10 Answers 10


If I'm understanding the question right, what you're after is pbcopy and pbpaste.

Open a terminal and run:

cat ~/Desktop/ded.html | pbcopy

The file is now in your clipboard.

To put it somewhere else (i.e. paste it) run:

pbpaste > ~/Documents/ded.html

Now you should have a copy of ded.html sitting in ~/Documents.

  • 7
    This is great for working with text files, but will fail when you try to perform the task with binaries. Try this out with an image to see what I mean. – Itai Ferber Jun 5 '11 at 11:51
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    after typing $ cat ~/Desktop/ded.html | pbcopy I can not use cmd+v to paste the file. Althought $ pbpaste > ~/Documents/ded.html did the job. – angry kiwi Jun 5 '11 at 13:02
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    You can also view the file contents in your OSX clipboard by going through the Finder menu Edit > Show Clipboard (tested in Yosemite). – Dannid Aug 11 '15 at 19:37
  • Thanks, any idea how I read it and pass that to the next command? e.g. cat ~/.emulator_console_auth_token | auth <read_content>? – Dominic Jul 27 '17 at 14:20
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    This copies the contents of the file, but not the file itself. – vy32 Mar 8 '19 at 3:24

Lri’s answer is headed in the right direction, but it has a couple of flaws: there is no need to use Finder (the clipboard is part of the StandardAdditions OSAX), and giving a run handler is a much more reliable way to pass arguments from the command line (since 10.4). Making both of these changes greatly simplifies the “escaping” that needs to be done to enter the program in a shell.

Here is my version (wrapped in a shell function—you could put this in (e.g.) your .bashrc to make it available in your shells):

file-to-clipboard() {
    osascript \
        -e 'on run args' \
        -e 'set the clipboard to POSIX file (first item of args)' \
        -e end \

file-to-clipboard ~/Desktop/ded.html

A file that has been put on the clipboard with this script can then be pasted in Finder to copy the file to another folder.

osascript can also be used as a hash-bang interpreter (since 10.5). Put this in a file (e.g. file-to-clipboard)

on run args
  set the clipboard to POSIX file (first item of args)

Make the file executable (chmod +x /path/to/where/ever/you/put/file-to-clipboard). Then run it like so:

/path/to/where/ever/you/put/file-to-clipboard ~/Desktop/ded.html

If it is stored in a directory in the PATH, then you can omit the path to the “script” file.

  • @Lri: Finder does not understand the obvious set the clipboard to {one,two} (though another AppleScript program can successfully extract the list). The StandardAdditions clipboard commands may be limited to single items. – Chris Johnsen Jun 8 '11 at 23:10
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    Would it work for multiple files? – VitalyB Mar 2 '16 at 23:25
  • Note: The path given has to be an absolute path for the script to work. – Leo Sep 14 '19 at 1:22
  • Works for any kind of file, not just text files (unlike pbcopy/bypase)! Convenient if you need to copy an image file. – Z0B Oct 21 '20 at 10:04
  • This should be the accepted answer. – luckman212 Feb 19 at 19:25

There is no way to achieve what you are trying to do using the command line. While Apple offers the pbcopy and pbpaste tools to allow basic copying of text, you cannot use these tools to copy a file in the sense you're looking for.

Without going in to too much technical detail, when you 'copy' a file in the Finder using C, you're not actually copying the file itself, just making a reference to the file on the clipboard and marking it as a file reference. When an application receives this reference when you paste, it has the responsibility of sorting things out, figuring out what you pasted, and ultimately, working with the file as it sees fit. In essence, when you copy a file in the Finder, it saves the path to the file in a certain way to a certain clipboard, and when you paste, it receives that file path and knows to create a new file using the contents of the old one (copy a file to the clipboard, delete it, try to paste it somewhere else, and see what happens, for instance).

In this sense of copying and pasting, the tools available at hand are not enough to do what you need. As boehj suggested, you can try to copy the contents of the old file into a new one, but this will only work well for text files. Any binary files you get will be corrupted (try doing this with an image – it becomes corrupted).

The traditional command line will fail you in this way, but you can take a look if you'd like into doing this in AppleScript, then invoking that through the command line with osascript.

  • You're right about images, etc. I didn't think of that. I guess I've misunderstood the question, because although pbcopy and pbpaste will work with an .html file, that's only because it just happens to be a text file. – boehj Jun 5 '11 at 12:18
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    Yep, no problem. ;) – Itai Ferber Jun 5 '11 at 12:38
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    Anyone who wants pbcopy to get some attention might get a free developer account and file some bugs - bugreport.apple.com - no guarantee it will help, but it gives the engineers leverage to get time to work on these things if enough people still care. – bmike Jun 5 '11 at 14:33
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    Can the OP achieve what they want with AppleScript on the CLI? – user588 Jun 5 '11 at 21:16
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    Thanks for getting back, despite the age of your original answer! I'll check it out. – MS Berends Mar 1 at 14:49

Executing pbcopy < filename command in the Terminal copies the contents of the file named filename.

  • 1
    10x easier than the accepted answer – Paul Razvan Berg Dec 7 '19 at 18:56
  • Yes, but as mentioned—does not work for images or binaries. – luckman212 Feb 19 at 19:24

The function below only works with a single file and not with multiple files. It requires GNU readlink which you can install by running brew install findutils.

copy(){ osascript -e{'on run{a}','set the clipboard to posix file a',end} "$(greadlink -f -- "$1")";}

Edit: I removed the tell app "Finder" block.

Edit 2: Reverted back to a version which supports relative paths.

  • 2
    This one actually works! – Bemmu Mar 3 '16 at 0:36

To copy a file to a destination, use the cp command.

cp /path/to/file /path/to/destination

See man cp for more information.

  • 4
    This is not an answer to the question asked which references the clipboard as the target location. – kellyfj Oct 26 '16 at 19:03

Here's a simple Shell/Bash script. Just paste it in your .bashrc file (or the like):

file-to-clipboard() {
    if [ -z "$1" ]; then
        echo "file path/name:"
        read FILE
    pbcopy < "$FILE"

Thanks to @Lri and @Chris Johnsen. Another option for you:

on run args
  set abs_path to do shell script "/usr/local/bin/greadlink -f -- " & (first item of args)
  set the clipboard to POSIX file abs_path

You can put this into a script, and place that script in any folder in your PATH. This combined the idea of using osascript in hashbang and using readlink for relative path. This would achieve the same as @Lri's bash function, but has the advantage of not adding anything to your bashrc. You might need to install readline. You can do so with homebrew

brew install readlink

With support of relative file:

clip_img() {
    osascript -e 'on run argv' \
        -e 'set currentDir to do shell script "pwd"' \
        -e 'set the clipboard to (read POSIX file (POSIX path of (currentDir as text & (first item of argv) )) as JPEG picture)' \
        -e 'end run' "/$1"
    # osascript -e 'clipboard info'

run clip_img path-to-file to copy image to clipboard, and path-to-file could be relative. The file could be jpeg or png files.


You can use cat 'originfile' > 'destinationfile' on unix environments;

copy originfile destinationfile on windows.

  • 2
    How does this place the file on the clipboard? – grg Jan 6 '18 at 22:27

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