Add cronjobs under Linux or Unix

Cron job are used to schedule commands to be executed periodically. You can setup setup commands or scripts, which will repeatedly run at a set time. Cron is one of the most useful tool in Linux or UNIX like operating systems. The cron service (daemon) runs in the background and constantly checks the /etc/crontab file, /etc/cron.*/ directories. It also checks the /var/spool/cron/ directory.

crontab is the command used to install, deinstall or list the tables (cron configuration file) used to drive the cron daemon in Vixie Cron. Each user can have their own crontab file, and though these are files in /var/spool/cron/crontabs, they are not intended to be edited directly. You need to use crontab command for editing or setting up your own cron jobs.

Different Types of cron Configuration

There are two different types of configuration files:

  1. The UNIX / Linux system crontab : Usually, used by system services and critical jobs that requires root like privileges. The sixth field (see below for field description) is the name of a user for the command to run as. This gives the system crontab the ability to run commands as any user.
  2. The user crontabs: User can installer their own jobs using the crontab command. The sixth field is the command to run, and all commands run as the user who created the crontab

How Do I Install / Create / Edit My Own Cronjobs?

To edit your crontab file, type the following command at the UNIX / Linux shell prompt:
$ crontab -e

Syntax of crontab (Field Description)

Your cron job looks as follows for user jobs:

 
1 2 3 4 5 /path/to/command arg1 arg2

OR

 
1 2 3 4 5 /root/backup.sh

Where,

  • 1: Minute (0-59)
  • 2: Hours (0-23)
  • 3: Day (0-31)
  • 4: Month (0-12 [12 == December])
  • 5: Day of the week(0-7 [7 or 0 == sunday])
  • /path/to/command – Script or command name to schedule

Easy to remember format:

* * * * * command to be executed
- - - - -
| | | | |
| | | | ----- Day of week (0 - 7) (Sunday=0 or 7)
| | | ------- Month (1 - 12)
| | --------- Day of month (1 - 31)
| ----------- Hour (0 - 23)
------------- Minute (0 - 59)

Your cron job looks as follows for system jobs:

1 2 3 4 5 USERNAME /path/to/command arg1 arg2

OR

1 2 3 4 5 USERNAME /path/to/script.sh

Example: Install Backup Job Script

If you wished to have a script named /root/backup.sh run every day at 3am, your crontab entry would look like as follows. First, install your cronjob by running the following command:
# crontab -e
Append the following entry:
0 3 * * * /root/backup.sh
Save and close the file.

More Examples

To run /path/to/command five minutes after midnight, every day, enter:
5 0 * * * /path/to/command
Run /path/to/script.sh at 2:15pm on the first of every month, enter:
15 14 1 * * /path/to/script.sh
Run /scripts/phpscript.php at 10 pm on weekdays, enter:
0 22 * * 1-5 /scripts/phpscript.php
Run /root/scripts/perl/perlscript.pl at 23 minutes after midnight, 2am, 4am …, everyday, enter:
23 0-23/2 * * * /root/scripts/perl/perlscript.pl
Run /path/to/unixcommand at 5 after 4 every Sunday, enter:
5 4 * * sun /path/to/unixcommand

How Do I Use Operators?

An operator allows you to specifying multiple values in a field. There are three operators:

  1. The asterisk (*) : This operator specifies all possible values for a field. For example, an asterisk in the hour time field would be equivalent to every hour or an asterisk in the month field would be equivalent to every month.
  2. The comma (,) : This operator specifies a list of values, for example: “1,5,10,15,20, 25″.
  3. The dash (-) : This operator specifies a range of values, for example: “5-15″ days , which is equivalent to typing “5,6,7,8,9,….,13,14,15″ using the comma operator.

How Do I Disable Email Output?

By default the output of a command or a script (if any produced), will be email to your local email account. To stop receiving email output from crontab you need to append >/dev/null 2>&1. For example:
0 3 * * * /root/backup.sh >/dev/null 2>&1
To mail output to particular email account let us say vivek@nixcraft.in you need to define MAILTO variable to your cron job:
MAILTO="vivek@nixcraft.in"
0 3 * * * /root/backup.sh >/dev/null 2>&1

Task: List All Your crontab Jobs

Type the following command :
# crontab -l
# crontab -u username -l

To remove or erase all crontab jobs use the following command:
# crontab -r
crontab -r -u username

Use special string to save time

Instead of the first five fields, you can use any one of eight special strings. It will not just save your time but it will improve readability.

Special string Meaning
@reboot Run once, at startup.
@yearly Run once a year, “0 0 1 1 *”.
@annually (same as @yearly)
@monthly Run once a month, “0 0 1 * *”.
@weekly Run once a week, “0 0 * * 0″.
@daily Run once a day, “0 0 * * *”.
@midnight (same as @daily)
@hourly Run once an hour, “0 * * * *”.

Run ntpdate every hour:
@hourly /path/to/ntpdate
Make a backup everyday:
@daily /path/to/backup/script.sh

Understanding /etc/crontab file and /etc/cron.d/* directories

/etc/crontab is system crontabs file. Usually only used by root user or daemons to configure system wide jobs. All individual user must must use crontab command to install and edit their jobs as described above. /var/spool/cron/ or /var/cron/tabs/ is directory for personal user crontab files. It must be backup with users home directory.

Understanding Default /etc/crontab

Typical /etc/crontab file entries:

SHELL=/bin/bash
PATH=/sbin:/bin:/usr/sbin:/usr/bin
MAILTO=root
HOME=/

# run-parts
01 * * * * root run-parts /etc/cron.hourly
02 4 * * * root run-parts /etc/cron.daily
22 4 * * 0 root run-parts /etc/cron.weekly
42 4 1 * * root run-parts /etc/cron.monthly

First, the environment must be defined. If the shell line is omitted, cron will use the default, which is sh. If the PATH variable is omitted, no default will be used and file locations will need to be absolute. If HOME is omitted, cron will use the invoking users home directory.

(3)

Additionally, cron reads the files in /etc/cron.d/ directory. Usually system daemon such as sa-update or sysstat places their cronjob here. As a root user or superuser you can use following directories to configure cronjobs. You can directly drop your scripts here. run-parts command run scripts or programs in a directory via /etc/crontab

Directory Description
/etc/cron.d/ Put all scripts here and call them from /etc/crontab file.
/etc/cron.daily/ Run all scripts once a day
/etc/cron.hourly/ Run all scripts once an hour
/etc/cron.monthly/ Run all scripts once a month
/etc/cron.weekly/ Run all scripts once a week

How do I Use Above Directories To Put My Scripts?

Here is a sample shell script (clean.cache) to clean up cached files every 10 days. This script is directly created at /etc/cron.daliy/ directory i.e. create a file called /etc/cron.daily/clean.cache:

 #!/bin/bash
# A sample shell script to clean cached file from lighttpd web server
CROOT="/tmp/cachelighttpd/"
DAYS=10
LUSER="lighttpd"
LGROUP="lighttpd"

# start cleaning
/usr/bin/find ${CROOT} -type f -mtime +${DAYS} | xargs -r /bin/rm

# if directory deleted by some other script just get it back
if [ ! -d $CROOT ]
then
        /bin/mkdir -p $CROOT
        /bin/chown ${LUSER}:${LGROUP} ${CROOT}
fi

How Do I Backup Installed Cronjobs Entries?

Simply type the following command to backup your cronjobs to a nas server mounted at /nas01/backup/cron/users.root.bakup directory:
# crontab -l > /nas01/backup/cron/users.root.bakup
# crontab -u userName -l > /nas01/backup/cron/users.userName.bakup

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