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XSEL(1x) XSEL(1x)


xsel - manipulate the X selection.


xsel [OPTION]...


Retrieve and set the X selection.

The X server maintains three selections, called PRIMARY, SECONDARY and CLIPBOARD. The PRIMARY selection is conventionally used to implement copying and pasting via the middle mouse button. The SECONDARY and CLIPBOARD selections are less frequently used by application programs. This program operates on the PRIMARY selection unless otherwise specified.

By default, this program outputs the selection without modification if both standard input and standard output are terminals (ttys). Otherwise, the current selection is output if standard output is not a terminal (tty), and the selection is set from standard input if standard input is not a terminal (tty). If any input or output options are given then the program behaves only in the requested mode.

If both input and output is required then the previous selection is output before being replaced by the contents of standard input.

Input options

append standard input to the selection. Implies -i.
append to selection as standard input grows. Implies -i.
read standard input into the selection.

Output options

write the selection to standard output.

Action options

clear the selection. Overrides all input options.
Request that the current selection be deleted. This not only clears the selection, but also requests to the program in which the selection resides that the selected contents be deleted. Overrides all input options.

Selection options

operate on the PRIMARY selection (default).
operate on the SECONDARY selection.
operate on the CLIPBOARD selection.

Do not modify the selections, but make the PRIMARY and SECONDARY selections persist even after the programs they were selected in exit. (Conventionally, the CLIPBOARD selection is persisted by a separate special purpose program such as xclipboard(1)). Ignores all input and output options.
exchange the PRIMARY and SECONDARY selections. Ignores all input and output options.

X options

specify the server to use; see X(1).
specify the X WM_NAME window property; default is "xsel".
Specify the timeout in milliseconds within which the selection must be retrieved. In --input mode, the background process exits after this amount of time. A value of 0 (zero) specifies no timeout (default).

Miscellaneous options

Specify the file to log errors to when detached. (Default $HOME/.xsel.log)
Do not detach from the controlling terminal. Without this option, xsel will fork to become a background process in input, exchange and keep modes.
display usage information and exit
Print informative messages. Additional instances of -v raise the debugging level, ie. print more information.
output version information and exit


There is no X selection buffer. The selection mechanism in X11 is an interclient communication mediated by the X server each time any program wishes to know the selection contents, eg. to perform a middle mouse button paste. In order to implement modification of the selection(s) (in input, keep and exchange modes) this program detaches from the terminal, spawning a child process to supply the new selection(s) on demand. This child exits immediately when any other program takes over the selection(s), eg. when the user next selects some text in a terminal window or by running xsel -c.


xsel conforms to the Inter-Client Communication Conventions Manual Version 2.0 (ICCCM2).


X(7), Xserver(1), xset(1), xclipboard(1), xpaste(1)


Conrad Parker <>, July 2001

January 2008