Five unexpected uses for Copy and Paste

Sharon Zardetto, Macworld
20 November, 2009
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Sure, you copy (Command-C) and paste (Command-V) all the time. But did you know you can copy and paste a whole lot more than just text and graphics? When you start in the Finder, you can use the Copy command to lift all sorts of information from a selected Finder item: the item’s name; its icon; its pathname; its content; and, in effect, the entire file. What you get out of the operation depends on where you choose to paste. Here are some of my favourite tricks.

1. Quickly copy a file or folder’s name

You have a file named Docket#OCN-L-3854-09 and want to create a folder for it and related files. How do you do that without introducing a typo? Just select the file and press Command-C—you don’t even need to specifically select the name. Now create a new folder (Command-Shift-N), and while its name (“Untitled Folder”) is selected, use the Paste command.

If you need that docket number referenced in a document, select the file in the Finder, copy, and then go to your word processor and paste: there’s the name.

Bonus tip: Would you like a list of all the items in a folder? Open the folder, use Command-A to select everything in it, and then Command-C to copy them. Now switch to your word processor and paste to get a list of all the selected files.

2. Copy an icon from one file to another

I don’t like that by default both my e-mail and Web downloads go into the Downloads folder; I prefer them segregated. But after setting up a separate download folder through the general pane of Mail’s preferences, I’m stuck with its generic blue folder icon. Or, not.

It’s simple to copy and paste a file’s icon to customise a folder. In this example, click on the Mail application in the Applications folder and choose Edit -> Copy. Then select the new, plain e-mail downloads folder and use Command-I to open its Info window. Click on the icon in the Info window and then press Command-V. The Finder pastes the Mail icon over the default folder icon.

Copy and paste Finder icons
It’s simple to give a file or folder a new icon. At the top here you see the Get Info window before (background) and after (foreground) pasting in the new icon. At the bottom, you see the Finder’s window sidebar before and after an icon change.

3. Grab a file’s pathname

Need to use a file pathname? You don’t have to type out something like /System/Library/DirectoryServices/DefaultLocalDB/dsmappings. The alternative is a two-step process, but it’s quick, and guarantees accuracy. Select the file or folder, press Command-C, and then open Terminal (in your Applications folder). Press Command-V and the full path name appears at the Terminal prompt. Now you can select, cut, and then paste it wherever you need it.

4. Turn a file’s contents into a Preview document

Apple’s unsung workhorse, the Preview program, can open PDF files and a wide variety of graphics formats for viewing, annotation, or file-format changes. That means you can use it to put bookmarks in a PDF file, adjust the colour or file format of almost any graphic file or photo, to annotate a Photoshop file, or even to mark up individual frames of a GIF. But you’ll probably want to work on a copy of your original file—particularly if, for example, you’re worried about mistakenly saving over the original document with markups.

There’s no need to open a file in Preview and then use Save As to make the copy. Instead, select the file while you’re in the Finder and copy it. Switch to Preview and use Command-N to activate the New From Clipboard command. Preview will create a new untitled document from the contents of the Clipboard—even if it’s a 200-page PDF file.

5. Paste a copy of a file wherever you need it

You can Option-drag a file or folder in the Finder to make a copy in a new location, but to do that you need both locations accessible at the same time. Instead, select the file in the Finder and copy it. Then open the perhaps deeply nested target folder and paste a copy of the file there.

Bonus tip: Once you’ve copied a file in the Finder, switch over to Mail and paste into a message window for a quick and easy way to attach the file to your message.

Sharon Zardetto’s 33 Things to Customize in OS X: Snow Leopard describes how to use Preview to change the colour of folder icons.

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