The cron daemon is a long-running process that executes commands at specific dates and times. You can use this to schedule activities, either as one-time events or as recurring tasks.

To schedule one-time only tasks with cron, use at or batch. For more information, see the man pages for at and batch.

For commands that need to be executed repeatedly (e.g., hourly, daily, or weekly), use crontab, which has the following options:

crontab -a filename Install filename as your crontab file. On many systems, this command is executed simply as crontab filename (i.e., without the -a option).
crontab -e Edit your crontab file, or create one if it doesn't already exist.
crontab -l Display your crontab file.
crontab -r Remove your crontab file.
crontab -v Displays the last time you edited your crontab file. (This option is only available on a few systems.)
crontab -u user Used in conjunction with other options, modify or view the crontab file of user. When available, this option can only be used by administrators.

The crontab command creates a crontab file containing commands and instructions specifying when cron should execute them. Each entry in a crontab file consists of six fields, specifying in the following order:

  minute(s) hour(s) day(s) month(s) weekday(s) command(s)

The fields are separated by spaces or tabs. The first five are integer patterns and the sixth is the command to be executed. The following table briefly describes each of the fields.

Field Value Description
minute 0-59 The exact minute that the command sequence executes
hour 0-23 The hour of the day that the command sequence executes
day 1-31 The day of the month that the command sequence executes
month 1-12 The month of the year that the command sequence executes
weekday 0-6 The day of the week that the command sequence executes. Sunday=0, Monday = 1, Tuesday = 2, and so forth.
command Special The complete sequence of commands to be executed. The command string must conform to Bourne shell syntax. Commands, executables (such as scripts), or combinations are acceptable.

Each of the patterns from the first five fields may be either an asterisk (meaning all legal values) or a list of elements separated by commas. An element is either a number or an inclusive range, indicated by two numbers separated by a minus sign (10-12). You can specify days with two fields: day of the month and day of the week. If you specify both of them as a list of elements, cron will observe both of them. For example:

  0 0 1,15 * 1 /mydir/myprogram

The cron daemon would run the program myprogram in the mydir directory on the first and fifteenth of each month, as well as on every Monday. To specify days by only one field, the other field should be set to *. For example:

  0 0 * * 1 /mydir/myprogram

The program would then only run on Mondays.

If a cron job specified in your crontab entry produces any error messages when it runs, you will get a mail message reporting the errors.

For more information, consult the following relevant man pages:

  man crontab man cron man at man batch

Note: On some systems, you must get permission from the system administrator before you can submit job requests to cron. On many shared systems, because there is only one crontab file, only the administrator has access to the crontab command.