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.


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