Why is copy-paste not working on Mac and how to fix it

9 min read

We copy and paste on Macs all the time. It’s such a useful and natural feature of macOS that we don’t even notice doing it hundreds of times a day, for everything from text snippets to files and folders. 

It’s when Mac won’t copy and paste, for various reasons, that our workflow breaks down. Suddenly files are difficult to move around, we can’t paste images into text documents, and we’re forced to retype something again and again. 

If only we could solve the problem with copy and paste and get back to normal! The good news is getting back to normal is possible and there are a few ways to do it. But first let’s review why Mac clipboard not working might happen at all.

Why isn’t copy and paste working?

Even though it has no user interface, clipboard is a piece of software just like any app on your Mac. And just like any app it sometimes malfunctions. 

The most common reasons for copy paste not working are: 

  • Bugs and glitches related to macOS performance
  • A third-party app or utility interfering with the Command + C or Command + V shortcut
  • A login item or extension preventing the clipboard from loading correctly
  • Your Mac being infected with malware or a virus that changes core operations

In summary, you can’t copy or paste files because of a macOS bug, a third-party app, or malware.

How to fix copy paste errors on Mac

The first step to fixing the copy and paste not working problem on Mac is to restart the app you’re currently using, on the off chance that it’s the app and not your Mac to blame. Just use the Command + Q shortcut to quit the app and relaunch it right after. 

If that didn’t solve the problem, you can restart the clipboard process itself. The fastest way to do it is with Terminal

  1. Launch Terminal from the Utilities folder.
  2. Type killall pboard
  3. Press Return.

killall pboard

Although typing Terminal commands can be quick and efficient, we don’t recommend this option for users who are not comfortable in the Terminal environment. Terminal is powerful and typing a wrong command can lead to unpredictable consequences. 

A safer and better option for most users is to quit the clipboard process with Activity Monitor: 

  1. Launch Activity Monitor from the Utilities folder.
  2. Type pboard in the search bar.
  3. Select the process.
  4. Click the stop icon.
  5. Quit

How to fix macOS system clipboard errors

If quitting the pboard process didn’t fix your copy and paste now working problem, you might be dealing with a deeper macOS system issue, like a corrupted preference or cached file. 

The best thing to do here is to use an all-in-one Mac optimizer such as CleanMyMac X. It lets you fix bugs, get rid of junk, and speed up your Mac — all in one click with various user-friendly scans. 

To resolve most Mac errors with CleanMyMac X: 

  1. Launch CleanMyMac X.
  2. Select Smart Scan in the sidebar.
  3. Scan.
  4. Proceed to remove any junk or correct any errors that CleanMyMac X has found.

macOS Smart Scan

Another useful idea to keep in mind is restarting the WindowServer process, which is a system process responsible for displaying app windows on your screen. It’s possible that your Mac clipboard not working is a result of app windows not being rendered properly. 

You may also need to restart WindowServer: 

  1. Launch Activity Monitor.
  2. Search for WindowServer.
  3. Select the process.
  4. Click the stop icon.
  5. Quit.

WindowServer in Activity Monitor

One last resort option left to fix a stuck clipboard is to restart your Mac in Safe Mode, which restricts third-party processes that might be interfering with Mac’s operations:

  1. Turn off your Mac.
  2. Press and hold the power button.
  3. Select your hard drive.
  4. Hold Shift and click “Continue in Safe Mode.” 

If the clipboard works in Safe Mode, consider reinstalling active apps on your Mac. If that doesn’t help either, reinstall the macOS. 

How to copy and paste without formatting issues

Sometimes it’s not that your clipboard stopped working completely — you might just have problems pasting in the right format. For example, the text comes out in the wrong size, font, and color. 

The regular Command + V paste shortcut generally preserves the formatting that was copied. If you’d like to paste the copied material as plain text, try using Shift + Option + Command + V. 

You can also enhance your clipboard with a higher-quality clipboard manager like Paste. 

Paste is a major upgrade over the default clipboard. It can copy an unlimited number of things and hold them all in its memory at once, pasting a particular one on demand. It also syncs them to the iOS app over iCloud. You can quickly search all the copied content from the past, set custom shortcuts, share clipped content with others, and convert any copied material to plain text.

alternative clipboard

How to upgrade copy-paste for Mac

Clipboard and default copy-paste functions on Mac have always been transient at best — lasting just enough to copy something immediately and easily overwritten. Restarting the Mac also wipes out anything left over in the clipboard. 

Luckily, there are lots of apps that can improve on clipboard functionality in various ways, such as Unclutter, TextSniper, and PopClip.

Unclutter brings effortless organization to your Mac. Anywhere you are, you get a sliding Unclutter window where you can hide files, write notes, and browse through your clipboard history. Working with anything in Unclutter is as simple as dragging and dropping, and restarting the Mac doesn’t delete anything. Plus, you can even sync your Unclutter with other Macs over the cloud!

Unclutter clipboard

TextSniper is another super useful app that does one thing really well. You can use a TextSniper shortcut to take a screenshot of any media (even a locked PDF or a video frame) and automatically save all the text it contains (through OCR) in plain text format in your clipboard. It’s nothing short of magical!

Capture Text

PopClip allows you to carry the same text-transforming capabilities throughout all apps on your Mac. You can enable copying, cutting, pasting, searching the web (for the selected text), translating, spell-checking, italicizing, bolding, and more — all with a small pop-up menu that appears any time you select any text in any app. 

copy, paste, cut with PopClip

As you can see, copy paste not working on Mac is not critical. Try to reset pboard and WindowServer processes, restart your Mac in Safe Mode if needed, and then use CleanMyMac X to get rid of any errors. After that, upgrade your clipboard with Paste for unlimited clipboard history, Unclutter for a new space to keep notes and files, TextSniper to save text from any document, and PopClip for an enhanced text-editing experience.

Best of all, CleanMyMac X, Paste, Unclutter, TextSniper, PopClip, and more than 240 other apps are available to you at no cost for seven days through the free seven-day trial of Setapp. Setapp is a platform of highly-curated Mac and iOS apps to solve any problem, from finance to coding to productivity. Try all the Setapp apps today and find the ones that improve your workflow.

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