How To Use Cron Job

Cron jobs are an essential tool for Linux users and administrators, allowing them to automate repetitive tasks by scheduling them to run at specific times or intervals. They can be used for a variety of purposes, such as generating reports, performing backups, or updating databases. This article will walk you through the process of setting up and managing cron jobs, so you can make the most of this powerful feature.

  1. Understanding Cron and Crontab

Cron is a daemon (background process) in Linux-based operating systems that runs scheduled tasks, also known as cron jobs. Crontab, short for “cron table,” is a configuration file that contains instructions for the cron daemon, specifying when and how often each task should be executed.

Each user on a Linux system can have their own crontab file, while there is also a system-wide crontab file, typically located at /etc/crontab.

  1. Cron Job Syntax

Cron job entries in the crontab file have a specific syntax, consisting of six fields:

* * * * * /path/to/command arg1 arg2
| | | | |
| | | | ----- Day of the week (0 - 7) (Sunday is both 0 and 7)
| | | ------- Month (1 - 12)
| | --------- Day of the month (1 - 31)
| ----------- Hour (0 - 23)
------------- Minute (0 - 59)

Each field can be a single value, a range, or a list of values separated by commas. An asterisk (*) serves as a wildcard, indicating that the job should run for every possible value of that field.

  1. Editing the Crontab File

To create or edit your user-specific crontab file, open a terminal and run the following command:

crontab -e

This will open your crontab file in the default text editor. If you want to use a different editor, set the VISUAL or EDITOR environment variable before running the command, like this:

export VISUAL=nano; crontab -e
  1. Adding a New Cron Job

To add a new cron job, simply add a new line to the crontab file with the appropriate syntax. For example, to run a script located at /home/user/ every day at 3:00 AM, add the following line:

0 3 * * * /home/user/

Save the file and exit the editor. The new cron job will be installed, and the cron daemon will automatically execute the specified command at the specified time.

  1. Listing and Removing Cron Jobs

To list all the cron jobs for your user, use the following command:

crontab -l

To remove a specific cron job, open the crontab file using crontab -e, delete the corresponding line, and save the changes.

To remove all cron jobs for your user, run:

crontab -r
  1. Managing System-wide Cron Jobs

System-wide cron jobs can be added to the /etc/crontab file or placed in the /etc/cron.d directory as separate files. To edit the system-wide crontab file, you’ll need root privileges:

sudo nano /etc/crontab
  1. Troubleshooting Cron Jobs

Cron job output and error messages are typically sent via email to the user who owns the crontab file. You can also redirect output to a file by appending > /path/to/logfile to the command in the crontab entry:

0 3 * * * /home/user/ > /home/user/backup.log 2>&1

In this example, both the standard output and standard error (represented by 2>&1) are redirected to /home/user/backup.log. This can be useful for troubleshooting purposes if your cron job is not running as expected.

Additionally, some common issues with cron jobs include:

  • Incorrect syntax: Ensure that your crontab entries follow the correct syntax as described in Section 2.
  • Permission issues: Make sure the script or command you’re trying to run has the necessary permissions and is executable.
  • Environment variables: Cron jobs may not have access to the same environment variables as your user session. If your script relies on environment variables, you may need to define them explicitly in the crontab file or in the script itself.
  • Incorrect paths: Always use absolute paths in your crontab entries to avoid ambiguity.


Cron jobs are an invaluable tool for automating tasks on Linux systems, helping you save time and ensure that critical processes run consistently. By understanding the syntax, creating and managing your crontab file, and troubleshooting any issues that arise, you’ll be able to harness the full power of cron to make your Linux experience more efficient and productive.


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