9.4. Automating Tasks with Cron and Crontab files

Like most Linux users, you may find it necessary to schedule repetitive tasks to be run at a certain time. Such tasks can occur as frequently as once a minute, to as infrequently as once a year. This scheduling can be done by using the ``cron'' facilities.

The cron facilities as implemented in Linux are fairly similar to those available in other Unix implementations. However, Red Hat has adopted a slightly different way of scheduling tasks than is usually done in other distributions of Linux. Just as in other distributions, scheduling information is placed in the system ``crontab'' file (locating in the ``/etc/'' directory), using the following format:

minute hour day month year command

You can specify each time component as an integer number (eg. 1 through 12 for the months January through December), or specify one or more components as ``*'' characters which will be treated as wildcards (eg. * in the month component means the command will run at the given day and time in every month. Here are some examples:

# Mail the system logs at 4:30pm every June 15th.
30 16 15 06 * for x in /var/log/*; do cat ${x} | mail postmaster; done

# Inform the administrator, at midnight, of the changing seasons.
00 00 20 04 * echo 'Woohoo, spring is here!'
00 00 20 06 * echo 'Yeah, summer has arrived, time to hit the beach!'
00 00 20 10 * echo 'Fall has arrived.  Get those jackets out.  :-('
00 00 20 12 * echo 'Time for 5 months of misery.  ;-('

Note that commands which produce output to standard out (ie. a terminal) such as the examples above using ``echo'' will have their output mailed to the ``root'' account. If you want to avoid this, simply pipe the output to the null device as follows:

00 06 * * * echo 'I bug the system administrator daily at 6:00am!' >/dev/null

In addition to the standard ``crontab'' entries, Red Hat adds several directories:


As their names suggest, executable files can be placed in any of these directories, and will be executed on an hourly, daily, or weekly basis. This saves a bit of time when setting up frequent tasks; just place the executable script or program (or a symbolic link to one stores elsewhere) in the appropriate directory and forget about it.