cron job reference

The crontab is a scheduled job utility on *nix server.

To edit a cron schedule:

crontab -e

This will open the schedule file based on the EDITOR setting in your shell. VI is the most commonly used editor.

A cron schedule file can look like this:


*/10 * * * *  php -f Ping.php > ping.out

MAILTO sets the address where the output of the cron goes. If you don't even want to receive it, set MAILTO="".

The first part of the second line is the schedule, and the second part is the command

The schedule 

The job schedule is set in the following sequence:

  • minute of the hour
  • hour of the day
  • day of the month
  • month of the year
  • day of the week

So in the example above:

  • */10 means every 10 minute in an hour
  • 2nd * means every hour of the day
  • 3rd * means every day of the month
  • 4th * means every month of the year
  • 5th * means every day of the week

*/10 is the abbreviated way of saying "every 10 minutes in an hour". 

Two other commonly used forms are comma separated values and a range using "-" (dash). For example:

0 9,12 * * *  sets the job to run on top of the hour at 9am and 12 am, every day.

0 9,12 * * 1-5 sets the job to run on top of the hour at 9am and 12 am, every weekday.

The command 

The command can be anything executable, either be a unix command or a script. A good practice is to test the command from the console and make sure everything is setup environmentally and then put them into the crontab. Since I want to track the output the above example writes the output from the script to a file.

Sometimes I prefer the logging implemented in the script and do not want to receive it from cron email, I can set the it like this:

*/10 * * * * php -f Ping.php > /dev/null

/dev/null is the almighty black hole of a Unix system and it will swallow everything without a trace.

If I really don't want to be bothered with ANYTHING, I can also do this:

*/10 * * * * php -f Ping.php > /dev/null 2>&1

This may look weird the first time you saw it. In a nutshell, the Unix shell assigns different handlers to STDOUT and STDERR, and "2>&1" means all the errors are re-directed to standard output.

We can also create a separate cron file that has all the jobs and use the crontab command to load them up in once:

crontab filename 

Some other notes:

Some hosting does not encourage the use of the crontab from a console. In most cases, a control panel like Cpanel provides a nice interface to set cron jobs.

Once I tried to set up cron job and it kept give me some weird error like "command not found", which made no sense since I have tested everything from the script to the PATH. It turned out the cron file I was trying to load is in DOS format and the carriage return messed it up. I ran "dos2unix" on the cron file and fixed it.

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