Crontab – Learn Linux with Servercheap

4 min read

On Unix and Linux operating systems, the crontab command opens the cron table for editing. The cron table is the list of tasks scheduled to run at regular time intervals on the system. The daemon which reads the crontab and executes the commands at the right time is called cron. It’s named after Kronos, the Greek god of time.

Crontab file consists of commands per line which have six fields. The beginning five fields represent time to run tasks and last field is for command(s). Here are the six field of each line:

  1. Minute (hold values between 0-59)
  2. Hour (hold values between 0-23)
  3. Day of Month (hold values between 1-31)
  4. Month of the year (hold values between 1-12 or Jan-Dec, you can use first three letters of each month’s name i.e Jan or Jun.)
  5. Day of week (hold values between 0-6 or Sun-Sat, Here also you can use first three letters of each day’s name i.e Sun or Wed. )
  6. Command

Easy to remember format:

* * * * * command to be executed
- - - - -
| | | | |
| | | | ----- Day of week (0 - 7) (Sunday=0 or 7)
| | | ------- Month (1 - 12)
| | --------- Day of month (1 - 31)
| ----------- Hour (0 - 23)
------------- Minute (0 - 59)

Example: Run backup cron job script

If you wished to have a script named /root/ run every day at 3am, your crontab entry would look like as follows. First open your crontab for editing by running the following command:

# crontab -e

Append the following entry, save and close the file.

0 3 * * * /root/


To run /path/to/command five minutes after midnight, every day, enter:

5 0 * * * /path/to/command

Run /path/to/ at 2:15pm on the first of every month, enter:

15 14 1 * * /path/to/

Run /scripts/phpscript.php at 10 pm on weekdays, enter:

0 22 * * 1-5 /scripts/phpscript.php

Run /root/scripts/perl/ at 23 minutes after midnight, 2am, 4am …, everyday, enter:

23 0-23/2 * * * /root/scripts/perl/

Run /path/to/unixcommand at 5 after 4 every Sunday, enter:

5 4 * * sun /path/to/unixcommand

How do I use operators?

An operator allows you to specifying multiple values in a field. There are three operators:

  1. The asterisk (*) : This operator specifies all possible values for a field. For example, an asterisk in the hour time field would be equivalent to every hour or an asterisk in the month field would be equivalent to every month.
  2. The comma (,) : This operator specifies a list of values, for example: “1,5,10,15,20, 25”.
  3. The dash (-) : This operator specifies a range of values, for example: “5-15” days , which is equivalent to typing “5,6,7,8,9,….,13,14,15” using the comma operator.
  4. The separator (/) : This operator specifies a step value, for example: “0-23/” can be used in the hours field to specify command execution every other hour. Steps are also permitted after an asterisk, so if you want to say every two hours, just use */2.

How do I disable email output?

By default the output of a command or a script (if any produced), will be email to your local email account. To stop receiving email output from crontab you need to append >/dev/null 2>&1. For example:

0 3 * * * /root/ >/dev/null 2>&1

To mail output to particular email account let us say you need to define MAILTO variable as follows:

0 3 * * * /root/ >/dev/null 2>&1

Task: List all your cron jobs

Type the following command:

# crontab -l 
# crontab -u username -l 

To remove or erase all crontab jobs use the following command:

crontab -r

Delete cron for specific user:

crontab -r -u username

Use special string to save time

Instead of the first five fields, you can use any one of eight special strings. It will not just save your time but it will improve readability.

Special stringMeaning
@rebootRun once, at startup.
@yearlyRun once a year, “0 0 1 1 *”.
@annually(same as @yearly)
@monthlyRun once a month, “0 0 1 * *”.
@weeklyRun once a week, “0 0 * * 0”.
@dailyRun once a day, “0 0 * * *”.
@midnight(same as @daily)
@hourlyRun once an hour, “0 * * * *”.


Run ntpdate command every hour:

@hourly /path/to/ntpdate

Make a backup everyday:

@daily /path/to/backup/

More about /etc/crontab file and /etc/cron.d/* directories

/etc/crontab is system crontabs file. Usually only used by root user or daemons to configure system wide jobs. All individual user must must use crontab command to install and edit their jobs as described above. /var/spool/cron/ or /var/cron/tabs/ is directory for personal user crontab files. It must be backup with users home directory.

Understanding Default /etc/crontab

Typical /etc/crontab file entries:


# run-parts
01 * * * * root run-parts /etc/cron.hourly
02 4 * * * root run-parts /etc/cron.daily
22 4 * * 0 root run-parts /etc/cron.weekly
42 4 1 * * root run-parts /etc/cron.monthly

First, the environment must be defined. If the shell line is omitted, cron will use the default, which is sh. If the PATH variable is omitted, no default will be used and file locations will need to be absolute. If HOME is omitted, cron will use the invoking users home directory.

Additionally, cron reads the files in /etc/cron.d/ directory. Usually system daemon such as sa-update or sysstat places their cronjob here. As a root user or superuser you can use following directories to configure cron jobs. You can directly drop your scripts here. The run-parts command run scripts or programs in a directory via /etc/crontab file:

/etc/cron.d/Put all scripts here and call them from /etc/crontab file.
/etc/cron.daily/Run all scripts once a day
/etc/cron.hourly/Run all scripts once an hour
/etc/cron.monthly/Run all scripts once a month
/etc/cron.weekly/Run all scripts once a week

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