Cron: Automating Server Tasks


  1. Introduction to Cron
  2. Installing and Configuring Cron
  3. Cron syntax
  4. Examples of Cron usage
  5. Advanced Cron features
  6. Managing Cron Tasks
  7. Frequently encountered problems and their solutions
  8. Conclusion

Introduction to Cron

Cron is a standard tool in UNIX and UNIX-like operating systems, which is used to automate execution of tasks on a server at a set time or periodically. It is based on the use of time schedules (cron-tables), in which tasks and their execution frequency are defined.

Cron task automation

Installing and configuring Cron

  • Checking Cron availability

Before using Cron, you should make sure that it is installed and available on your server. You can check its availability by running the command

crontab -l

If it returns the current Cron tasks, then Cron is installed and ready to use.

  • Adding and Editing Tasks

To add or edit a Cron task, use the command

crontab -e

This command will open Cron configuration file for the current user. Here you can add new tasks or edit existing tasks.

Cron syntax

Cron syntax consists of five fields which define the task execution time:

* * * * *
| | | | |
| | | +-- Day of week (0 - 6) (Sunday = 0 or 7)
| | +---- Month (1 - 12)
| | +------ Day of the month (1 - 31)
| +-------- Hour (0 - 23)
+---------- Minute (0 - 59)

Each field can take the following values:

  • * – any valid value;
  • */n – perform every n time units (for example, */15 for every 15 minutes);
  • n – a specific value (e.g., 0 for midnight).

Examples of Cron usage

  • Running a script every day at a certain time

In order to run the script each day at a certain time, use the following line in Cron configuration file:

0 9 * * * /path/to/

In this example, the script will run every day at 9 am.

  • Running the task every minute

To run a task every minute, use the following line:

* * * * * /path/to/command

Here, the asterisks in each field mean that the task will run every minute.

  • Starting a task on specific days of the week

To run a task only on certain days of the week, you can specify the corresponding values in the “Day of the week” field. For example, to run a task every Sunday and Saturday, use the following line:

* * * * 0,6 /path/to/command

Here 0 and 6 correspond to Sunday and Saturday respectively.

Advanced Features of Cron

  • Using Environment Variables

Cron allows you to set your own environment variables in a configuration file. For example, you can set path to executable file or environment variables:


This allows to set up certain environment settings for Cron tasks.

  • Using command aliases

Cron allows to use command aliases to describe tasks in a more convenient way. For example, instead of full command path you can use aliases:

@reboot /path/to/command

Here @reboot means that the task will be executed every time the server is rebooted.

  • Logging Cron Tasks

For each Cron task, you can set up logging in order to record the results of task execution or error messages. For this you can use output redirection operators:

* * * * * /path/to/command >> /path/to/logfile.log 2>&1

In this example, >> /path/to/logfile.log specifies writing command output to the specified log file, and 2>&1 redirects error messages to the same file.

Managing Cron Tasks

  • View Current Tasks

To view the current Cron tasks, use the command:

crontab -l

This will display a list of current tasks for the current user.

  • Modifying and Deleting Tasks

To modify or delete Cron tasks, use the command

crontab -e

This command will open Cron configuration file, where you can modify or delete tasks.

  • Working with Custom Cron Files

Cron supports the ability to use custom configuration files. To do this, you have to use command:

<pre class="wp-block-syntaxhighlighter-code">crontab <filename></pre>

Where filename is a path to your custom Cron configuration file.

Common Problems and Solutions

There are some common problems that can occur when using Cron, but in most cases, they can be easily fixed. Here are a few common problems and their solutions:

  • Incorrectly set file paths

One of the common problems is incorrectly set file paths in Cron tasks. If your script or command depends on a certain working directory or requires access to certain files, make sure that you use absolute paths instead of relative paths.

  • Problems with access rights

If a Cron task is running on behalf of a certain user, make sure that this user has the necessary permissions to access the files and directories needed to perform the task. Check permissions for scripts, data files and other resources used in the task.

  • Problems with Environment Variables

Sometimes Cron tasks may not work properly because certain environment variables are missing. In this case it is recommended to set Environment Variables explicitly in Cron configuration file or in a script which is being run.

  • Problems with starting commands and scripts

If your Cron tasks do not start, check if commands and scripts have proper permissions to run. Also make sure that you use the correct shell at the beginning of your script (e.g. #!/bin/bash).

  • Errors in Cron syntax

Incorrect syntax in Cron configuration file may cause tasks not to run or run incorrectly. Please carefully check syntax of each line in configuration file and make sure it is in the right format.

  • Problems with Time Zones

Time zones can cause Cron tasks to run incorrectly. Make sure that the time zone on the server is configured correctly and meets your expectations. If necessary, set correct time zone in Cron configuration file or in script itself.


Cron is a great tool for automating server tasks. It allows you to run scripts and commands at a certain time or periodically. Proper configuration and use of Cron allows you to simplify your server administration and automate routine tasks. I hope that this tutorial has helped you understand the basics of Cron and that you can use it to automate tasks on your server.

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