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Thinking in Java
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The clipboard

The JFC supports limited operations with the system clipboard (in the java.awt.datatransfer package). You can copy String objects to the clipboard as text, and you can paste text from the clipboard into String objects. Of course, the clipboard is designed to hold any type of data, but how this data is represented on the clipboard is up to the program doing the cutting and pasting. The Java clipboard API provides for extensibility through the concept of a “flavor.” When data comes off the clipboard, it has an associated set of flavors that it can be converted to (for example, a graph might be represented as a string of numbers or as an image), and you can see if that particular clipboard data supports the flavor you’re interested in.

The following program is a simple demonstration of cut, copy, and paste with String data in a JTextArea. One thing you’ll notice is that the keyboard sequences you normally use for cutting, copying, and pasting also work. But if you look at any JTextField or JTextArea in any other program, you’ll find that they also automatically support the clipboard key sequences. This example simply adds programmatic control of the clipboard, and you could use these techniques if you want to capture clipboard text into something other than a JTextComponent.

// Using the clipboard.
import javax.swing.*;
import java.awt.*;
import java.awt.event.*;
import java.awt.datatransfer.*;
import com.bruceeckel.swing.*;

public class CutAndPaste extends JFrame  {
  private JMenuBar mb = new JMenuBar();
  private JMenu edit = new JMenu("Edit");
  private JMenuItem
    cut = new JMenuItem("Cut"),
    copy = new JMenuItem("Copy"),
    paste = new JMenuItem("Paste");
  private JTextArea text = new JTextArea(20, 20);
  private Clipboard clipbd =
  public CutAndPaste()  {
    cut.addActionListener(new CutL());
    copy.addActionListener(new CopyL());
    paste.addActionListener(new PasteL());
  class CopyL implements ActionListener {
    public void actionPerformed(ActionEvent e) {
      String selection = text.getSelectedText();
      if(selection == null)
      StringSelection clipString =
        new StringSelection(selection);
  class CutL implements ActionListener {
    public void actionPerformed(ActionEvent e) {
      String selection = text.getSelectedText();
      if(selection == null)
      StringSelection clipString =
        new StringSelection(selection);
      clipbd.setContents(clipString, clipString);
      text.replaceRange("", text.getSelectionStart(),
  class PasteL implements ActionListener {
    public void actionPerformed(ActionEvent e) {
      Transferable clipData =
      try {
        String clipString = (String)clipData.
      } catch(Exception ex) {
        System.err.println("Not String flavor");
  public static void main(String[] args) { CutAndPaste(), 300, 200);
} ///:~

The creation and addition of the menu and JTextArea should by now seem a pedestrian activity. What’s different is the creation of the Clipboard field clipbd, which is done through the Toolkit.

All the action takes place in the listeners. The CopyL and CutL listeners are the same except for the last line of CutL, which erases the line that’s been copied. The special two lines are the creation of a StringSelection object from the String and the call to setContents( ) with this StringSelection. That’s all there is to putting a String on the clipboard.

In PasteL, data is pulled off the clipboard using getContents( ). What comes back is a fairly anonymous Transferable object, and you don’t really know what it contains. One way to find out is to call getTransferDataFlavors( ), which returns an array of DataFlavor objects indicating which flavors are supported by this particular object. You can also ask it directly with isDataFlavorSupported( ), passing in the flavor you’re interested in. Here, however, the bold approach is taken: getTransferData( ) is called, assuming that the contents supports the String flavor, and if it doesn’t, the problem is sorted out in the exception handler.

In the future you can expect more data flavors to be supported.

Thinking in Java
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   Reproduced courtesy of Bruce Eckel, MindView, Inc. Design by Interspire