Copy and Paste Methods
Quick Start: Copying and pasting files will either be second nature to you or it may seem like a mountain to climb. Learning how to copy and paste is often easier than learning how to navigate around the file system. Do know and remember that "once something has been copied - it remains on a clipboard until something else gets copied and replaces it". Thus once you have copied something don't 'panic' to get it pasted. One universally useful way of copying and pasting is to use the CTRL key and two adjacent keys C and V. Highlight what you want to copy in Explorer and press [CTRL]+[C] to copy. Highlight the intended destination folder and press [CTRL]+[V] (or [Shift]+[Insert] in Windows) to paste.
(Note: This page is concerned
primarily with file back-up so cutting and moving files will not be
covered. We would just like to recommend that if moving files do try to
copy them first and then go back and delete the originals. When moving
operations go wrong (a system crash or just one file that can't be
copied) then either data loss can ensue or you can finish up not
knowing what has and what has not been moved).
The menu bar (just under the title bar at the very top of Windows
Explorer) is nearly always visible. Click on its "Edit" menu in order
to access the "Copy" and "Paste" sub-menus . One can either hold down
the mouse on the "Edit" menu and then release it on the relevant
sub-menu or click on the "Edit" menu and then click on the relevant
The same menu items can also be accessed using the keyboard. To do this the window must be the active window and the menu items enabled by pressing the ALT button. Once the menu items are activated there should be an underlined letter visible in most menu items. Pressing that letter's corresponding key should either execute an action or expand the menu to reveal any sub-menus. The sub-menus are then accessed in a similar fashion. Thus holding down [ALT] while [E] and then [C] are pressed in succession will normally initiate a copy operation. If nothing had been first selected or if the items cannot be copied for some reason then the options would normally be greyed. Then when ready to paste use [ALT] while [E] and then [P] are pressed in succession.
Right-Click Shortcut Menus
The much under-used Right mouse-button can be used to bring up menu
lists (also known as shortcut menus) absolutely all over the
place. If you weren't aware of this then do develop a habit of
seeing what a Right-Click may reveal. If
and/or folders have been selected in Explorer then the options
available from a right-click can include both Copy and Paste. We find
this the easiest of
all methods but everyone must do what is comfortable for them and we
note that right-clicking can be awkward enough using a laptop's touch
The Application Key (if available on your keyboard - usually
somewhere to the right of the spacebar) can
a selected item's shortcut menu.
If you (a) have two instances of Windows Explorer open at once or (b) if you have just one instance open in a split-pane "Explorer" view then one can quite simply drag-n-drop items from one postition to another. One caution with this method is that (a) sometimes drag-n-drop moves the selection and at other times it copies it. The action taken depends on what is being dragged and to where it is being dragged. Holding down the CTRL or the SHIFT key while you drag-n-drop like this can modifiy which of these actions takes place. If you consider that the Desktop is actually a specialised folder from within Windows Explorer then a further complication, when copying from the Desktop, is that in some locations the original will be copied or moved and in other locations a shortcut to the original will be created.
We thus deprecate and practically never use drag-n-drop like this. However - if one uses the Right
mouse-button to Right-Drag-n-Drop
completely different thing happens. When the item is dropped a shortcut
menu apppears giving you options including, "Copy Here", "Move Here"
and "Copy Shortcut Here". This being unambiguous is what we recommend
if you should decide to use drag-n-drop as the method of choice for
Notes on the Windows Clipboard and its Viewer
When things are copied, cut or cropped within windows, information is stored on a virtual clipboard until something else is copied onto it. If you ever want to see what is currently held on it then there is a clipboard viewer which, (as long as it has been installed during setup), can be run by entering clipbrd into the run box. Definitely with Win98 through WinXP but not yet tested on Vista. The windows clipboard can store different types of information. It can store text (as when highlighted text is copied), graphics (as when an image is copied or cropped or PrintScreen pressed) and can store relevant file information (as when copying has been done inside the windows file hierachy). When files and folders are copied only the first item is viewable in the clipboard viewer. Note that it can only store the details of just one copy operation at a time and only relevant material can be pasted if a paste operation is performed. Thus, for example, if there is graphics on the clipboard you would not be able to paste such material into some text or into Windows Explorer.
Unsurprisingly perhaps, copying can be done from a command prompt.
syntax is different for files and for folders. Wild cards can be used
to copy a group of files. A command prompt may be opened by entering
cmd (or sometimes command) into the run box. Various
options (such as
whether to overwrite or not) can be added as "switches". You can get a
list of all the options by entering copy
/? (for files) or xcopy /?
(for a folder) at a prompt or read about copy
elsewhere. The most basic syntax is copy
(or xcopy) source [destination]. If the
destination is not specified then the current folder is used for the
output. Some examples follow. Note that there can be subtle variations
in the different operating systems so experiment with care before you
go to work in earnest. Generally speaking folders should not have a
trailing backslash. If in any doubt about syntax then use the full path
to both source and location and include the whole path in quotes.
Hidden and system folders will not be copied so to achieve such copying
the attributes might need changing with the attrib
command or (for NT-based systems) you could try our own wee utility.
To straighforwardly copy one file from one location to a floppy you might for example enter:
#> copy C:\sourcefolder\myfile.txt A:
To copy all txt files in a folder (D:\texts) into the current folder (C:\roberts) you could just enter:
C:\roberts> copy D:\texts\*.txt
To copy all the files from the same folder to another folder on another drive you might enter:
#> copy C:\sourcefolder\*.* E:\destfolder
If a path contains spaces then enclose the path in inverted commas:
#> copy C:\sourcefolder\*.* "E:\destination folder"
Note that files can be copied and renamed in the same operation, such as with:
#> copy C:\myfile01.doc D:\myfile02.doc
To copy the contents of one folder into another folder then xcopy is used instead of copy. For example the following command should copy all the visible files and sub-folders within the source folder into the destination folder:
#> xcopy D:\source C:\destination
The above examples all suppose that the operating system has
file name support. If not then the 8dot3 MSDOS format for filenames
should be used. If you want to find out the short names then enter dir
/x at the relevant prompt or copy the relevant file or folder
and then view the output in the Clipboard Viewer as in the previous
A couple of helpers
If you want a utility to help you open the command prompt but at a
specific point in the directory hierachy then you could do a lot worse
than try the DropToDOS
utility or the WinXP PowerToy Open
Command Window Here. If you regularly want to put the full path to
a file onto the clipboard then we recommend Camtech's tiny CopyThisPath.
This latter utility can be very helpful when writing scripts for .bat
or .vbs files and the like.
Batch Files (very briefly)
A text file with the .bat file extension is an extremely simple
executable file that at its most basic runs the same lines that you
manually at a command prompt. Such files are known as batch files. If you
were to open notepad and write just one
line with three "words" such as ...
XCOPY "C:\DOCUME~1\MYNAME\MYDOCU~1" F:
... and then SaveAs or rename the file to have a .bat extension you could then have a very handy file to use to backup all the contents of MyName's My Documents to an F: drive (say a USB Flash Memory Drive). To simply edit a batch file just RightClick on it and choose the Edit option. Nothing to stop you running this from Task Scheduler or from the Startup Group as two semi-automated ways of initiating your own customised simple backup routine.