I would like to disable the default behavior that seems to happen with every Linux distribution that I've ever tried that any selected text is immediately sent to the clipboard (Mint, Ubuntu, Fedora, SuSE, etc.) and every window manager (Gnome, KDE, Cinnamon), and instead to behave more like the Windows implementation.

I know that this is a beloved behavior by many in Linux, and I'm sure many will think I'm an idiot. The reason I want to do this, is that I'm a keyboard junky when navigating a GUI. (e.g. when I'm in Linux and I copy a URL and then switch to my browser and type Ctrl+L, it selects the address bar and moves my intended paste down one notch and replaces it with what I'm trying to overwrite.) I know there are MANY workarounds, but I don't really care about that, what I'd prefer is to be able to toggle the behavior for the clipboard.

  • I often just ignore X's text selection (centre click to paste), and just use Ctrl-C Ctrl-V Ctrl-X which is the clipboard (Not X's selection) they are different things. - For working in the terminal and some other situations, I find the X-selection is handy - otherwise I just use Ctrl C,V,X - It is very handy some times as it gives access to 2 stored strings. However the X-selecltion is simply built in to X, and it is rather volatile when flip from window to window and selecting text (which causes the previous one to be unselected) ... – Peter.O Jul 4 '15 at 4:10
  • 1
    This Q/A (Askubuntu) may shed some light on the functioning of X-selection and how it interacts with Ctrl C,V,X clipboard: Inconsistant copy and paste behaviour. Is there a fix? – Peter.O Jul 4 '15 at 4:24
  • 1
    Thanks Peter.O. But it seems that I haven't found a way to ignore X's text selection without using the mouse. I almost exclusively use Ctrl+C,X,V but when I type Ctrl+L to access the address bar, (I now know thanks to your link) Firefox replaces the Clipboard with Primary. So I guess this is really a much larger problem. Hopefully some of these X replacements that I've been reading about will improve the situation. – syserss Jul 5 '15 at 5:34
  • related: unix.stackexchange.com/questions/119043/… – MountainX Jun 1 '16 at 4:45
up vote 6 down vote accepted

First a misconception:

any selected text is immediately sent to the clipboard

Actually text is never "sent" anywhere until it is requested by a receiving application. When you select text, the application only claims the selection, which means basically that it raises a flag to say that from now on it owns it.

Now on to your question:

In X11 there can be multiple selections. 2 of them have well-known names and are standardized. They are called PRIMARY and CLIPBOARD. Their respective conventional behaviors are as follows:

  • PRIMARY
    • Applications claim PRIMARY when text is selected
    • Applications request PRIMARY from the owning application and paste its contents on middle click.
  • CLIPBOARD
    • Applications claim CLIPBOARD when an explicit command is given, typically Ctrl-c.
    • Applications request CLIPBOARD from the owning application and paste its contents when an explicit command is given, typically Ctrl-v.
    • There might be additional rules I'm unsure about, like if no application owns CLIPBOARD but some application owns PRIMARY, paste primary instead upon Ctrl-v.

It seems like CLIPBOARD already does what you need. You can ignore PRIMARY if you want (but note that some older applications like xterm may only support PRIMARY). Personally I do the opposite: I ignore CLIPBOARD and use only PRIMARY. I guess that's just the way I learned to use X11, I wasn't even aware that there was CLIPBOARD at first. But in order to mitigate the problem you describe, I often wish there was a pushable & poppable stack of PRIMARY selections, so I could "pop" to the previous selection after clobbering it with a different one.

In response to your explicit question about whether the PRIMARY behaviour can be disabled, I think that would be quite difficult. The most straightforward way would be to individually disable it in each application (or toolkits which the applications use) which is surely not feasible. I suppose a kind of "X11 firewall" which blocks requests to claim PRIMARY could be constructed, but I don't think that would really buy you anything more than you can already get by ignoring PRIMARY and using CLIPBOARD only.

More information: What's the difference between Primary Selection and Clipboard Buffer?

  • 1
    Thanks Celada, I wish I could find a way to ignore Primary without resorting to the mouse. It doesn't sound like there's an easy solution to my annoyance, and as long as I use Linux I'll need to modify my behavior. Thanks so much for the thorough answer! – syserss Jul 5 '15 at 5:40
  • xterm is fully customizable (with the translations resource) to tell it to use any selection or cut buffer (with fall backs if needed) – Stéphane Chazelas Aug 3 '17 at 17:47

I was messing around and accidentally enabled the Synchronize contents of the clipboard and the selection option in KDE Plasma's Clipboard application. Un-checking this solved a similar problem for me.

KDE Plasma Clipboard utility configuration

  • 2
    Yes, there's also another solution hidden for OP: Set the checkbox at Ignore selection and Plasma's clipboard manager will never overwrite your Ctrl-V clipboard again. If your clipboard content is overwritten with the PRIMARY selection contents, it's not X11's fault, it's usually a clipboard manager at work. – sweisgerber.dev Nov 9 '17 at 9:43

Your Answer

 

By clicking "Post Your Answer", you acknowledge that you have read our updated terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy, and that your continued use of the website is subject to these policies.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.