Cron allows Linux and Unix users to run commands or scripts at a given date and time. You can schedule scripts to be executed periodically. Cron is one of the most useful tools in a Linux or UNIX like operating systems. It is usually used for sysadmin jobs such as backups or cleaning /tmp/ directories and more. The cron service (daemon) runs in the background and constantly checks the /etc/crontab file, and /etc/cron.*/ directories. It also checks the /var/spool/cron/ directory.


crontab command for cron jobs


You need to use the crontab command to edit/create, install, deinstall or list the cron jobs 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.


Types of cron configuration files


There are different types of configuration files:

  • The UNIX / Linux system crontab: Usually, used by system services and critical jobs that require 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.
  • The user crontabs: User can install their own cron 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 or create or edit my own cron jobs?


To edit or create your own crontab file, type the following command at the UNIX / Linux shell prompt:

$ crontab -e


Do I have to restart cron after changing the crontable file?


No. Cron will examine the modification time on all crontabs and reload those which have changed. Thus cron need not be restarted whenever a crontab file is modified.


Syntax of crontab (field description)


The syntax is:

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


1 2 3 4 5 /root/



  • 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


1 2 3 4 5 USERNAME /path/to/


Example: Run backup cron job script


If you wished to have a script named /root/ run every day at 3 am, 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/


Save and close the file.


How do I use operators?


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

  • 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.
  • The comma (,) : This operator specifies a list of values, for example: “1,5,10,15,20, 25”.
  • 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.
  • The separator (/): This operator specifies a step value, for example: “0-23/” can be used in the hour's field to specify command execution every other hour. Steps are also permitted after an asterisk, so if you want to say every two hours, just use */2.


How do I disable email output?


By default, the output of a command or a script (if any produced), will be emailed 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/ >/dev/null 2>&1


To mail the output to particular email account let us say you need to define MAILTO variable as follows:

0 3 * * * /root/ >/dev/null 2>&1


Task: List all your cron jobs


Type the following command:

# crontab -l
# crontab -u username -l


To remove or erase all crontab jobs use the following command:

# Delete the current cron jobs #

crontab -r


## Delete job for the specific user. Must be run as root user ##

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 * * * *”.


More about /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 use the 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 back up with the users home directory.


Understanding Default /etc/crontab


Typical /etc/crontab file entries:


# 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.


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 cron jobs. You can directly drop your scripts here. The run-parts command run scripts or programs in a directory via /etc/crontab file:


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 own scripts or jobs?


Here is a sample shell script called clean.cache. This script is created to clean up cached files every 10 days. This script is directly created at /etc/cron.daliy/ directory. In other words create a text file called /etc/cron.daily/clean.cache as follows.

# A sample shell script to clean cached file from lighttpd web server
# Clean files every $DAYS
# Web server username and group name
# Okay, let us start cleaning as per $DAYS
/usr/bin/find ${CROOT} -type f -mtime +${DAYS} | xargs -r /bin/rm
# Failsafe 
# if directory deleted by some other script just get it back 
if [ ! -d $CROOT ]
        /bin/mkdir -p $CROOT
        /bin/chown ${LUSER}:${LGROUP} ${CROOT}


Save and close the file. Set the permissions:

# chmod +x /etc/cron.daily/clean.cache


How do I backup installed cron jobs 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


crond and cron jobs log file


You can use the cat command/grep command/tail command to view crond log file. For example, on a CentOS 7 Linux on can use the following commands:

cat /var/log/cron
tail -f /var/log/cron
grep ""
tail -f /var/log/cron


Find out if daily backups jobs running or not on FreeBSD Unix server:

$ sudo grep '/usr/local/bin/rsnapshot daily' /var/log/cron


On modern Linux distro one can use the systemctl command or journalctl command:

sudo systemctl status cron
sudo journalctl -u cron
sudo journalctl -u cron | grep


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