I have a mobile app with a new-data-object form where you enter an URL and some other (non-textual) settings. The most common way to enter the URL is to paste it from the address bar of the browser. (As it's a mobile app, you can also scan a barcode or an NFC tag, but both those options are less commonly available.) I'm trying to streamline this screen and make it easier to use.

I first thought of adding a Paste button similar to this question, to remove the long-tap step from pasting, but then I thought I could remove even that step by looking at the clipboard contents when the form is entered and automatically pasting into the text box if the clipboard contains a (usable) URL.

This seems really streamlined, but I wonder if it might cause problems.

  1. Not having a button makes it less discoverable (that you'd want to paste into the field). I can deal with this by having a message: if there wasn't a usable URL on the clipboard, display the message next to the text box to warn/inform the user that they could copy it from a browser. This would replace my existing message telling the user that the easiest way to enter the URL is to paste it.

  2. It seems unlikely, but on occasion the user might have an unrelated URL on the clipboard, maybe even a sensitive one. But it's easy enough for them to delete it if that's not what they want.

  3. It might be too "clever", or unexpected: the user was happily using a website, then suddenly the URL is in my app! Even if that's exactly what they intended, it's surprising in a How did it know? What just happened? kind of way.

Are there any other potential UX issues I should be aware of before adding this behaviour? I can fall-back to the idea of a button if there's a good reason not to do it automatically, but I'd rather not add that extra step unnecessarily.

I'm particularly looking for an answer based on direct experience or a reasoned theoretical basis, and/or supported by examples. "I think it's a good/bad idea," is the kind of thing I could have come up with on my own.

  • 2
    This behavior, in fact, contributes to creating security threats for users. See this question on Security SE: security.stackexchange.com/questions/39118/… Commented Aug 1, 2013 at 11:06
  • @DeerHunter I don't see how automatic pasting is different from manual pasting in that case. Anyway, the pasted URL is validated and then displayed to the user before it's used. I think that's very different from pasting arbitrary text into a terminal session.
    – Dan Hulme
    Commented Aug 1, 2013 at 12:16
  • 1
    Depending on the platform, the user might be in an application working with sensitive information that would normally be displayed in a password box (where the characters are hidden) - your application might expose that data. - You mention this in #2, but what if the user doesn't want that information VISIBLE. Deleting might not help if someone is looking over your shoulder.
    – Don Nickel
    Commented Aug 1, 2013 at 13:11
  • @DonNickel You can't copy from password fields anyway. The only way you'd get a password pasted is if it was originally copied from a visible, non-password field such as an email, and (in this case) it happened to look like an URL.
    – Dan Hulme
    Commented Aug 1, 2013 at 13:17
  • @Dan Hume - fair enough. The original question isn't wasn't clear about your platform.
    – Don Nickel
    Commented Aug 1, 2013 at 14:10

5 Answers 5


I don't like the idea of automatically pasting. The clipboard isn't yours, it's the users'. Grabbing stuff from it automatically is the same thing as grabbing a document out of someones' hand in my opinion.

I like the paste button, or if you don't want the button simply have the text inside of the field be something like (click here to paste) and when focus comes to the area paste it into the box.

  • 2
    realizes that the clipboard could contain private data, and should not be open-access to apps. Commented Aug 2, 2013 at 13:04
  • The Readability app has a great implementation. If you have a URL on you clipboard when you open the app, it will ask of you want to save that URL. I think you're right: you shouldn't just grab the data from the clipboard, but you can ask for access to it and still make it easy for the user. Commented Aug 20, 2013 at 14:08

This has been done by companies/applications before and I have found it very useful. The most important thing to think about, as you have stated in your question, is to validate that what's in the clipboard is useful and of the correct type as expected by the application.

An application that does excatly this is TrueCaller. It auto-pastes the entry in the clipboard if it is a phone number and lets you look it up. For a first time user it is surprising, but also a time-saver and something that is quickly recognized. Users who use the app on a regular basis will realize that:

A) Copying a URL is much faster than manually typing it out

B) They don't have to paste it in by hand, if they don't want to, since it's already filled in.

As for privacy/integrity concerns, as long as the user can choose to either retype a new URL or discard the currently auto-pasted URL there should be no worries. Sure, people have sensitive data in their clipboard, but as with smartphones today people tend to keep them for themselves and not hand them over to other people. There is much more private stuff on a smart phone today then a simple clipboard entry. (Content such as bank accounts, credit cards, email and photos.)


In my opinion you pretty much covered all the UX issues and know about the pros and cons of this implementation.

There's one vital point you didn't mention: how is the app used and by whom? Is it one, that's very strongly used, maybe a few times a day, a week or just occasionally when the need is there? Because that would have a strong effect on what you should use, I think. Having many "heavy users" it would seem that streamlining the process by automating some parts would definitely aid your cause. But if it's only occasionally this feature may be not desirable or even unwished for, because of your third argument – it's very surprising, it may be a bit too much. Also Jim pointed out the privacy issues a user could have with your app, when you take this person's clipboard without consent.

In the end simple A/B testing (one version being automated, the other one with the button) would really be your best next action, that way you could find out how inexperienced user react to this sort of behaviour.


It should be fine if the user says so.

If you do implement auto-paste, turn it off when the user installs the application for the first time. Place a text label near the URI entry field: "Paste the URI here." Then after the user pastes the URI, add this to the label: "You can turn on automatic pasting in Settings." Label a successful auto-paste with "This URI was automatically pasted. You can turn this off in Settings." And label a failed validation with "There is no URI to paste." This way, it's secure by default and convenient for those who choose so, and the user always knows what's going on.

And don't auto-paste the same URI twice in a row, as that will frustrate users who intentionally deleted an auto-paste. "To automatically paste, copy a different URI."

Another way to acquire the URI

Some mobile platforms allow applications to register to receive share intents from other applications. First, the user activates the "share" control in the browser, which may have any of these icons.

  • On iOS, the share icon commonly appears as a rectangle with an arrow pointing out of it.
  • On Android, the share icon appears as an angle bracket < with small circles on the vertices.

Then the operating system displays a list of applications that can receive a shared URI. After the user chooses your application from the list, the browser passes the URI that the user was viewing to your application, and you can continue to elicit the "other (non-textual) settings".


My first impression was this breaks the usability rule by "performing actions without user consent"

But I think this is trumped by 1) providing the user with good defaults 2) Taking unnecessary load from the user (there is no reason the system cant do this)

So if the process is linear (you copy then very soon after you are needing to paste) and you can identify that what the user has in their clipboard is valid then it is likely to enhance their experience. If done correctly it may be unexpected but in a good way!

Applications such as lastpass auto fill form details for you, it's really beneficial and is quoted as one of their key features.

One caveat would be making sure the user checks that what has been pasted is the right information: You could potentially add a line asking the user to check that its correct or provide the option to turn the functionality off?

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