Cron: Tutorial & Best Practices

Automate Your Tasks with cron

Have you ever wished you could automate repetitive tasks on your Linux server, such as running backups, updating software, or generating reports? Look no further than cron! This powerful tool allows you to schedule and automate tasks, saving you time and effort. In this guide, we'll explore what cron is, how it works, why it is important, and how to use it effectively on your Linux server.

What is cron and Why is it Important?

cron is a time-based job scheduler in Linux that allows you to schedule recurring tasks or scripts at specific intervals or times. It runs in the background as a daemon and executes tasks based on predefined schedules called "cron jobs." These cron jobs can be configured to run daily, weekly, monthly, or at custom intervals.

The importance of cron lies in its ability to automate routine tasks, making system administration more efficient. By setting up cron jobs, you can ensure that critical processes are executed automatically without requiring manual intervention. This is particularly useful for tasks like system maintenance, data backups, log rotation, and other repetitive operations that would otherwise consume valuable time and resources.

Installing cron

cron is typically pre-installed on most Linux distributions since it is an essential part of the system. However, if you're working on a minimal installation or a custom server build, you might need to install it manually. Here's how you can install cron on Ubuntu using the apt package manager:

  1. Open a terminal.
  2. Update the package list: sudo apt update.
  3. Install cron: sudo apt install cron.

Once installed, cron will be up and running on your system, ready for you to configure and schedule your tasks.

Configuring cron Jobs

To schedule a task with cron, you need to create a cron job entry in the crontab (cron table) file associated with the user account that will execute the task. Each user can have their own crontab file, allowing them to schedule individual tasks independently.

To edit your user's crontab, use the following command:

crontab -e

This will open the crontab file in your default text editor, where you can add or modify cron job entries.

Each cron job entry consists of six fields that define the task's schedule. The fields, in order, represent minutes, hours, days of the month, months, days of the week, and the command to be executed. You can use various combinations of numbers, asterisks (*), slashes (/), and other symbols to specify the desired schedule.

Here's an example of a cron job entry that runs a backup script every day at 2:00 AM:

0 2 * * * /path/to/

Once you've made changes to your crontab file and saved it, cron will automatically pick up the new schedule and start executing the specified tasks accordingly.

Troubleshooting cron Issues

While cron is a reliable tool, troubleshooting issues can sometimes be challenging. Here are a few common problems you might encounter and how to address them:

  • Incorrect file permissions: Ensure that the cron job script or command you're trying to execute has the correct permissions, allowing the cron daemon to access and execute it.

  • Command not found: If your cron job relies on specific commands or paths, it's essential to provide absolute paths or set the appropriate environment variables within the cron job entry. Otherwise, you might encounter "command not found" errors.

  • Debugging cron jobs: To troubleshoot cron jobs, you can redirect the output and error messages to a log file by modifying the cron job entry. For example:

    0 2 * * * /path/to/ >> /var/log/backup.log 2>&1

    This will append both standard output and error output to the specified log file, allowing you to investigate any potential issues.

By understanding common pitfalls and knowing how to diagnose problems, you'll be able to effectively leverage cron for task automation and ensure smooth operation of your scheduled tasks.


cron is a powerful tool that allows you to automate tasks on your Linux server. By scheduling repetitive jobs, you can save time and streamline your system administration. We explored what cron is, why it's important, how to install it if needed, and how to configure cron jobs. We also covered some common troubleshooting tips to help you resolve any issues that may arise.