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Clipboard backup in C#

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20 Sep 20062 min read 95.1K   3.7K   45   8
Backing up the clipboard using C# and Windows API calls to avoid C#'s limits on clipboard management.


The code uses Windows API calls to read and write into the clipboard.

It provides a ClipboardHelper, an easy to use API bridge, which offers, in addition, functions to serialize complex clipboard data to hard disk and restore them when you want, using the XmlSerializer, instead of the .NET Framework which can manage only CLR compliant data.

I tested it with Internet Explorer, Word, OpenOffice, including with image files.


The .NET framework and the Windows.Forms.Clipboard class allows to manipulate only serializable data. So what happens if your clipboard contains data from a non-compliant application? Easy! The .NET Framework thinks that the clipboard is empty.

To read and manipulate these data, we need to call user32.dll and kernerl32.dll.

Using the code

The code includes two projects: the library ClipboardHelper, and the console application ClipboardTest.

The whole code is commented, to understand the API usage and the implemented saving process.

To use the library is really easy: it's a static class that exposes a static void ClipboardHelper.Serialize function to serialize the clipboard data to hard disk, and static void Deserialize to deserialize it and place it back into the clipboard, ready to be pasted.

//Comment next line to end the demo mode
//and backup your clipboard data.
Console.WriteLine("restore the demo clipboard");

//Open the clipboard and serialize into a directory
Console.WriteLine("serialize clipboard to " + fileName);

//Deserialize the clipboard and set data
//to win clipboard ready to be pasted
Console.WriteLine("restore the clipboard " + fileName);

The test application shows an example of the ClipboardHelper in action. It deserializes the clipboard, after having copied some rows from Internet Explorer at the CodeProject homepage, backs it up, and deserializes it again, from the backup. After you run it, you have the clipboard backup in your own clipboard, ready to be pasted.

Inside the ClipboardHelper

Data returned by API calls are saved in [Serializable]DataClip objects. It allows to easily send the clipboard in a remoting context, and to save it via the XmlSerializer:

public static void SaveToFile(ReadOnlyCollection<DATACLIP> clipData, string clipName)
    IEnumerator<DATACLIP> cData = clipData.GetEnumerator();
    while (cData.MoveNext())
        XmlSerializer xml = new XmlSerializer(typeof(DataClip));
        using (StreamWriter sw = new StreamWriter(di.FullName + 
                                 @"\" + i.ToString() + ".cli",false))
            xml.Serialize(sw, cData.Current);

Deep into the clipboard

The clipboard contains data in fragmented buffers. Each of them has a specific DataFormat that is used by the clipboard viewer and the software from which data has been copied, to recognize how to correctly render the buffer.

The function EnumClipboardFormats of user32.dll returns the array of DataFormats contained in the clipboard. For each DataFormat, we can call GetClipboardData. It returns the handle to the clipboard object. By calling GlobalSize and GlobalLock from kernel32.dll, we obtain the clipboard object properties (its length and the pointer to it), so we can copy the clipboard object into our buffer (a byte array) via the Marshal.Copy method.

To get the clipboard, first of all, check to open the clipboard:


Then, we get all DataFormats; querying them we get the clipboard data buffer:

    //Init a list of ClipData,
    // which will contain each Clipboard Data
    List<DataClip> clipData = new List<DataClip>();
    //Loop for each clipboard data type
    uint format = 0;
    while ((format = Win32ClipboardAPI.EnumClipboardFormats(format)) != 0)
        //Get the formatName
        StringBuilder formatName = new StringBuilder();
                                       formatName, 100);
        //Get the pointer for the current Clipboard Data 
        IntPtr pos = Win32ClipboardAPI.GetClipboardData(format);
        //Get the clipboard buffer data properties
        UIntPtr lenght = Win32MemoryAPI.GlobalSize(pos);
        IntPtr gLock = Win32MemoryAPI.GlobalLock(pos);
        byte[] buffer;
        //Init a buffer which will contain the clipboard data
        buffer = new byte[(int)lenght];
        int l = Convert.ToInt32(lenght.ToString());
        //Copy data from clipboard to our byte[] buffer
        Marshal.Copy(gLock, buffer, 0, l);
        //Create a ClipData object that 
        //represents the current clipboard data
        DataClip cd = new DataClip(format, 
                      formatName.ToString(), buffer);
        //Add current Clipboard Data to the list


  • 08/23/2006 - Initial release.
  • 08/29/2006 - The whole saving system has been changed, implementing the XmlSerializer. It works better, solving the bugs in the writing file process.


This article has no explicit license attached to it but may contain usage terms in the article text or the download files themselves. If in doubt please contact the author via the discussion board below.

A list of licenses authors might use can be found here

Written By
Web Developer
Italy Italy
25 years old, began coding from basic, since 1992.

Interested in coding database management windows and web application, in C#, Xml, Sql, Asp.Net

Soon will be a dentist, but yet doesn't not know if will use hands or robots to cure the teeth.

Actually own and work for Italian softwarehouse Vigo s.r.l.:

Comments and Discussions

SuggestionWhy this crashes for specific clipboard formats Pin
Jochen Arndt22-Jan-18 5:52
professionalJochen Arndt22-Jan-18 5:52 
QuestionThe application crashes when we copy one range from excel Pin
Remya Thomas25-Mar-15 17:55
Remya Thomas25-Mar-15 17:55 
QuestionThe app crashes Pin
Joginder19-May-13 1:13
Joginder19-May-13 1:13 
AnswerRe: The app crashes Pin
leoseccia11-Oct-14 8:12
leoseccia11-Oct-14 8:12 
GeneralOutlook problem Pin
vice12-Feb-07 8:44
vice12-Feb-07 8:44 
GeneralClipboard application sometime working Pin
nip9014-Oct-06 8:38
nip9014-Oct-06 8:38 
GeneralRe: Clipboard application sometime working Pin
Alessio Deiana16-Oct-06 23:10
Alessio Deiana16-Oct-06 23:10 
GeneralRe: Clipboard application sometime working Pin
nip9019-Oct-06 23:43
nip9019-Oct-06 23:43 

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