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Crontab Tutorial Print E-mail
Crontab Tutorial

   * What is a Crontab? 
A cron is a utility that allows tasks to automatically run in the background at regular intervals by use of the cron daemon. Crontab (CRON TABle) is a file which contains the schedule of cron entries to be run and at what times they are to be run.This can be quite useful. For example, you may have a personal temporary directory that you wish to be cleaned out once a day to keep your quota from being exceeded. This is where cron scheduling comes in to play. Not all systems allow for a cron schedule to be setup. You need to see your system administrator to see if it is available on your system.

   * How does it work? 
A cron schedule is a simple ASCII text file. Each user has their own cron schedule. It is called a cron table (crontab). The crontab files are not edited (or created) directly and you do not have access to the file without invoking it from the crontab command. You may not use any text editor you wish. You must use the text editor that has been specified in you system variables (see your system administrator for these). The text editor vi is usually the default text editor. The editor must be invoked using the -e switch. To create a cron schedule type:

crontab -e

The text editor vi will open a blank window for the "crontab entries" to be entered. Each line represents a seperate crontab entry (hereafter referred to as "cron jobs"). (To add comments place # before any text.). If you are still not completely familiar with the vi editor you may want to look at a Unix book/tutorial/man pages.

Each cron job has at least 6 sections. Each section is separated by a single space, but the final section may have spaces within it. No spaces are allowed within Sections 1-5, only between them. Sections 1-5 are indicate when and how often you want the task (the sixth position) to be executed. All time are local times not GMT.

Special Note: If the computer system running the crontab is down, the crontab will not run as well. When the system comes back up, the crontab will resume its normal activity, but will not go back and run the jobs that were missed due to the system being down. Here is how positions 1-5 are layed out:

  1. Minute 0-59
  2. Hour 0-23 (0 = midnight)
  3. Day 1-31
  4. Month 1-12
  5. Weekday 0-6 (0 = Sunday) 
An asterisk (*) is used to indicate that every instance (i.e. every hour, every weekday, etc.) of the particular time period will be used. If you wish to use more than one instance of a particular time periods, then seperate the times by a comma. If you wish for continuous execution, the start and stop items are separated by a dash. For example, if you wanted to run your command at :05 and :35 past the hour, every hour, Monday through Friday, then your time stamp would look like this: 5,35 * * * 1-5 The sixth position indicates which task will be run at the given time(s). For example, if you wanted to remove all of the files in the "//home/temp/" directory every morning at 4:45 AM, your command would look: 45 4 * * * rm //home/temp/*

   * Now what? 
Once the file is saved, the crontab is running. You do not need to initialize, or run any start-up program. Crontab executes when there is/are a command(s) (not comments or blank space) in the setup file (the one created above). If at any time you wish for command in the crontab file to not run anymore, just delete (or comment out) the line containing the command. If you wish to have no crontab jobs running at all, just remove (or comment out) all of the lines containing commands. (To add comments place # before any text).

   * What are some examples? 
For more examples, see the man page for crontab (type man crontab on your command shell and press enter)

   * Toggle options to Crontab 
There are three toggle options to crontab: -e Edit (or create) a crontab file -l List the crontab file -r Remove the crontab file.

   * Why do I keep getting an email each time my Cron job runs? 
The email is crontab's way of notifing you that it has completed (or not) the job you requested it to run. After everything is running smoothly, you may want to disable this feature, or redirect the output to a log file instaed of an email. If you wish to diasble the email (and not output to a log file) then, at the end of each of the cron job lines you wish to not be notified on, place the command: >/dev/null 2>&1 This essential writes the email out to nowhere (a trash bin of sorts), and thus solves the problem. Your final cron job line will look like this: 45 4 * * * rm //home/temp//* >/dev/null 2>&1 If you wish to diasble the email (and output to a log file) then, at the end of each of the cron job lines you wish to not be notified on, place the command: > {logfile path and name} or >> {logfile path and name} Special Note: One > means replace the current log with a new one, while (two) >> means append the current output to the end of the current log. This essential writes the email out to nowhere (a trash bin of sorts), and thus solves the problem. Your final cron job line will look like this: 45 4 * * * rm //home/temp//* > /home//cronlogs/clear_temp_dir.txt>/dev/null 2>&1

   * Happy croning! 

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