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One type of interprocess communication supported by X and GTK+ is selections. A selection identifies a chunk of data, for instance, a portion of text, selected by the user in some fashion, for instance, by dragging with the mouse. Only one application on a display (the owner) can own a particular selection at one time, so when a selection is claimed by one application, the previous owner must indicate to the user that selection has been relinquished. Other applications can request the contents of a selection in different forms, called targets. There can be any number of selections, but most X applications only handle one, the primary selection.
In most cases, it isn't necessary for a PyGTK application to deal
with selections itself. The standard widgets, such as the
Entry (see Section 9.9, “Text Entries”)
widget, already have the capability to claim the selection when appropriate
(e.g., when the user drags over text), and to retrieve the contents of the
selection owned by another widget or another application (e.g., when the
user clicks the second mouse button). However, there may be cases in which
you want to give other widgets the ability to supply the selection, or you
wish to retrieve targets not supported by default.
A fundamental concept needed to understand selection handling is that of the atom. An atom is an integer that uniquely identifies a string (on a certain display). Certain atoms are predefined by the X server, GTK.