pbgrep: grep your clipboard history

I’ve used ClipMenu as my clipboard history manager for several years now: it’s unobtrusive, and does almost exactly what I need.

Except, you can’t search the clipboard history.

I keep thousands of items in my clipboard history, and today I was trying to find a specific item, that I know was in there. And I couldn’t find it after about a minute of scanning through submenus.

Now, ClipMenu can persist it’s history to disk, in ~/Library/Application Support/ClipMenu/clips.data. Which is a binary plist file.

We can view it using plutil:

$ plutil -p ~/Library/Application\ Support/ClipMenu/clips.data -o -

I made the decision to limit searching for single-line clips: this means I can grep for lines that contain:


Doing single-line matches means I can use grep (or, as I discovered later, ack), which should be faster than firing up a python interpreter.

My first iteration was:

$ plutil -convert xml1 ~/Library/Application\ Support/ClipMenu/clips.data -o - \
  | grep "<string>.*test.*</string>" -o

This works quite well, but includes the XML string tags. I did strip them out using sed, but this is an extra command. It turns out that grep’s regular expressions can’t handle positive lookahead/behind assertions, and Mac OS X’s grep does not support --perl-mode, so I reached for ack:

function pbgrep() {
  plutil -convert xml1 ~/Library/Application\ Support/ClipMenu/clips.data -o - \
    | ack "(?<=<string>).*$1.*(?=</string>)" -o

That now takes pride of place in my .bashrc, and I can pbgrep foo to my hearts content.

I guess I could (if there was only one match), put the value back into the clipboard. That might be kind-of nice.