Copying text to clipboard with JavaScript

In this article, I will be explaining in depth how the copyToClipboard snippet from 30 seconds of code works. You can find the source code for it and a ton of other useful methods in the project’s repository.
30 seconds of code: Javascript snippets that you can understand in 30 seconds or lessCore functionality
One thing that comes up quite often in website building is the ability to copy some text to clipboard, without the user selecting it or hitting the appropriate key combination on their keyboard. Javascript can easily do this in five short steps:
  1. Create a
    <textarea>
    element to be appended to the document. Set its
    value
    to the string that we want to copy to the clipboard.
  2. Append said
    <textarea>
    element to the current HTML document.
  3. Use
    HTMLInputElement.select()
    to select the contents of the
    <textarea>
    element.
  4. Use
    Document.execCommand('copy')
    to copy the contents of the
    <textarea>
    to the clipboard.
  5. Remove the
     <textarea>
    element from the document.
The simplest version of this method should look like this:
const copyToClipboard = str => {
  const el = document.createElement('textarea');
  el.value = str;
  document.body.appendChild(el);
  el.select();
  document.execCommand('copy');
  document.body.removeChild(el);
};
(copyToClipboard method basic implementation)
Bear in mind that this method will not work everywhere, but only as a result of a user action (like inside a
click
event listener), due to the way
Document.execCommand()
works.

Making the appended element invisible

If you try out the above method, you will probably see some flashing, when the
<textarea>
element is appended and then removed. This problem is especially bad for people on screenreaders, as it can cause some really annoying issues. So, the next logical step is to use some CSS to make this element invisible and make it
readonly
in case the users try to mess with it:
const copyToClipboard = str => {
  const el = document.createElement('textarea');
  el.value = str;
  el.setAttribute('readonly', '');
  el.style.position = 'absolute';
  el.style.left = '-9999px';
  document.body.appendChild(el);
  el.select();
  document.execCommand('copy');
  document.body.removeChild(el);
};
(copyToClipboard implementation without the textarea being shown)

Saving and restoring the original document’s selection

The final consideration is that the user might have already selected some content on the HTML document, so it would be nice to not remove anything they might have selected. Luckily, we can now use some modern Javascript methods and properties like
DocumentOrShadowRoot.getSelection()
,
Selection.rangeCount
,
Selection.getRangeAt()
,
Selection.removeAllRanges()
and
Selection.addRange()
to save and restore the original document selection. Here’s the final, annotated code implementing these improvements:

const copyToClipboard = str => {
  const el = document.createElement('textarea');  // Create a <textarea> element
  el.value = str;                                 // Set its value to the string that you want copied
  el.setAttribute('readonly', '');                // Make it readonly to be tamper-proof
  el.style.position = 'absolute';                 
  el.style.left = '-9999px';                      // Move outside the screen to make it invisible
  document.body.appendChild(el);                  // Append the <textarea> element to the HTML document
  const selected =            
    document.getSelection().rangeCount > 0        // Check if there is any content selected previously
      ? document.getSelection().getRangeAt(0)     // Store selection if found
      : false;                                    // Mark as false to know no selection existed before
  el.select();                                    // Select the <textarea> content
  document.execCommand('copy');                   // Copy - only works as a result of a user action (e.g. click events)
  document.body.removeChild(el);                  // Remove the <textarea> element
  if (selected) {                                 // If a selection existed before copying
    document.getSelection().removeAllRanges();    // Unselect everything on the HTML document
    document.getSelection().addRange(selected);   // Restore the original selection
  }
};
(Final form of copyToClipboard with selection storing)
And that’s pretty much all there is to it. In less than 20 lines of code, we have created one of the most commonly needed methods in frontend development.
If you like this article, check out 30 seconds of code for more useful code snippets for your Javascript projects!

Tags

Topics of interest