Skip to content

Ask an expert – Understanding the clipboard

No time to drop into the Apple Store and ask the Genius Bar for help with your iPhone or iPad? Maybe one of our resident experts can help!

As Apple nerds, we get asked a lot of tech support questions — and some of those questions crop up time and time again. Here’s a recent query that we think will be familiar to many of you.

“When I copy a file, where does it go?”

There are two ways to answer this question, depending on whether it was meant in a theoretical or purely practical manner. In the former case, what you’re doing when copying a file (or some content within an app, such as text or an image) is sending it to the device’s clipboard. This temporary storage repository keeps hold of only the most recent thing you copied. When pasting the item, a duplicate copy of it is made in a location of your choosing.

Traditionally, the clipboard was tied to a single machine, but modern Apple devices have a feature called Universal Clipboard. This enables you to copy and paste between two devices (any combination of iOS/iPadOS/macOS), if they’re both signed into iCloud with the same Apple ID and have Bluetooth and Wi-Fi active. Universal Clipboard is part of the Handoff system, which also allows you to, for example, continue an email on your Mac that you were writing on your iPhone, or send an open web browser tab from iPhone to iPad. Handoff can be turned on or off in Settings — go to General > AirPlay & Handoff.

As to the specifics of where you files go in a strictly practical sense… wherever you send them!