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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).

Menu Bar

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 sub-menu.

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  files 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 pad.

The Application Key  Application Key  (if available on your keyboard - usually somewhere to the right of the spacebar) can also open 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 a 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 copying files.

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.

Command Prompt

Unsurprisingly perhaps, copying can be done from a command prompt. Note that the 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 and xcopy 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 long 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 using Explorer and then view the output in the Clipboard Viewer as in the previous paragraph.

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 might enter 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 ...
... 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.

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