How to use Universal Clipboard with a password manager to cut-and-paste between macOS and iOS

A hidden treasure lets you silently, briefly pass items between and among iOS and macOS.

universal clipboard mac ios

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Getting a piece of text, an image, or other copied material from one device to another should require exporting it to a cloud or sync service and then re-importing it. Both iOS and macOS have a nifty trick up their sleeve that I think isn’t as well known as it should be: Universal Clipboard.

It’s a nearly hidden feature that you can’t enable or disable. It’s just always available. Copy something on one device, and any other iOS or Mac hardware logged into iCloud with the same Apple ID immediately has that available for pasting.

For Macs running High Sierra or later, you can use Universal Clipboard to copy files between them.

The copied content persists briefly in the Universal Clipboard. Apple defines this only as “short time,” which appears to be about two minutes. If you paste after that, the local clipboard has been restored.

I find this cross-device copy-and-paste particularly useful for text codes used for confirming logins that I have to generate on one device and use on another. While some accounts may use SMS to send the codes, and then iOS 12 and macOS 10.14 Mojave can automatically prefill them, others use a more secure method: an app-based code generator. (I use Authy.)

In that scenario, these are the steps.

  1. On the Mac, provide the username and password to log into an account protected with two-factor authentication.
  2. A prompt will appear with the short code to enter. On the iPhone, I launched Authy, find the appropriate login, and tap the copy button to put the code onto the clipboard.
  3. Back on the Mac, click in the code field and type Command-V to paste. No re-typing necessary!

Universal Clipboard works among devices that meet certain requirements: a device running iOS 10 or later (that’s an iPhone 5 or later and a lot of iPad models) or a Mac running macOS from 2012 or later that’s running 10.12 or later.

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