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You may not know this, but masking goes through the heart of a more common function in Photoshop layers. Every layer carries with it something called a Transparency mask which defines the boundaries of the layers, that is, which pixels are opaque and which are transparent. You can load that Transparency mask as a selection at any time by pressing the Ctrl key. That would be the Command key on the Mac and clicking on a thumbnail in the Layers palette. But that's just a beginning. You also have layer masks which allow you to temporarily erase portions of a layer or control the area affected by an adjustment layer.
You can use a Clipping mask to house the contents of one or more layers inside a base layer and you can use Knockouts, wonderful blissful knockouts to bore temporary holes inside layers. With the exception of the Transparency mask, layer-based masks exist independently of the layers themselves, so you'll always have access to your original pixels. Layer, thy name is Flexibility, Flexibility J Layer to be exact, ain't it the truth.
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