Yash Soni
Yash Soni / May 26, 2020
2 min read

Automation, while often met with fear, is an important goal of software development and technology in general. There are times when there’s a need for running a group of tasks automatically at certain predefined times in the future. And lets face it, no one likes to do repetitive jobs. This is where Cron comes into picture.

Cron is a time-based job scheduler in Unix-like systems, used to run commands or scripts at specific intervals (times, dates, etc.).

The most used version of Cron is Vixie Cron which was developed by Paul Vixie in 1987. The word originates from the Greek word χρόνος (chronos), which means time.

Crontabs & Cron jobs

Cron uses special configuration files called crontab files, which lists a tabular list of commands or jobs to run.

Crontab stands for cron table and each line in the crontab file is called a cron job.

To list the configured crontab file, run the following command

crontab -l

If you don’t have any cron jobs currently configured, you should see a message, saying no crontab for <user>.

Anatomy of a Crontab Entry

The anatomy of a user-level crontab entry looks like the following:

# ┌───────────── minute (0 - 59)
#  ┌───────────── hour (0 - 23)
#   ┌───────────── day of the month (1 - 31)
#    ┌───────────── month (1 - 12)
#     ┌───────────── day of the week (0 - 6) (Sunday to Saturday;
#                                        7 is also Sunday on some systems)
# * * * * * <command to execute>

The 5 astrieks * represent the time to execute the command.

Suppose you want to schedule a job every which takes a backup every 30 minutes. The corresponding conjob would be something like this:

*/30 * * * * /var/www/sites/

Memorising the exact syntax can be difficult so you can visit the following sites to build a custom cron schedule expression.