Crontab: Quick Reference

Setting up cron jobs in Unix and Solaris


cron is a unix, solaris utility that allows tasks to be automatically run in the background at regular intervals by the cron daemon. These tasks are often termed as cron jobs in unix , solaris.  Crontab (CRON TABle) is a file which contains the schedule of cron entries to be run and at specified times.

This document covers following aspects of Unix cron jobs

  1. Restrictions
  2. Commands
  3. File Syntax
  4. Example
  5. Environment
  6. Disable Email
  7. Generate log file for crontab activity

1. Restrictions

You can execute crontab if your name appears in the file /usr/lib/cron/cron.allow. If that file does not exist, you can use crontab if your name does not appear in the file /usr/lib/cron/cron.deny. If only cron.deny exists and is empty, all users can use crontab. If neither file exists, only the root user can use crontab. The allow/deny files consist of one user name per line.

2. Commands

To specify a editor to open crontab file add the following line to your RC file.

export EDITOR=vi;

Here are the different ways you can use the crontab command.

crontab -eEdit your crontab file, or create one if it doesn’t already exist.
crontab -lDisplay your crontab file.
crontab -rRemove your crontab file.
crontab -vDisplay the last time you edited your crontab file. (This option is only available on a few systems.)

3. File Syntax

A crontab file has five fields for specifying day , date and time followed by the command to be run at that interval.

*     *     *     *     *      command to be executed
|     |     |     |     |
|     |     |     |     +----- day of week  (0 - 6) (Sunday=0)
|     |     |     +----------- month        (1 - 12)
|     |     +----------------- day of month (1 - 31)
|     +----------------------- hour         (0 - 23)
+----------------------------- minute       (0 - 59)

"*" in the value field above means all legal values as in braces for that column. The value column can have a * or a list of elements separated by commas. An element is either a number in the ranges shown above or two numbers in the range separated by a hyphen (meaning an inclusive range).


  1. Repeat pattern like /2 for every 2 minutes or /10 for every 10 minutes is not supported by all operating systems. If you try to use it and crontab complains it is probably not supported.
  2. The specification of days can be made in two fields: month day and weekday. If both are specified in an entry, they are cumulative meaning both of the entries will get executed .

4. Example

A line in crontab file like below removes the tmp files from /home/someuser/tmp each day at 6:30 PM.

30      18     *     *     *    rm /home/someuser/tmp/*

Changing the parameter values as below will cause this command to run at different time schedule below:

minhourday/monthmonthday/weekExecution time
0****Every hour, on the hour
30011,6,12*00:30 Hrs on 1st of Jan, June & Dec.
020*101-58.00 PM every weekday (Mon-Fri) only in Oct.
001,10,15**midnight on 1st ,10th & 15th of month
5,10010*1At 12.05,12.10 every Monday & on 10th of every month

Note: If you inadvertently enter the crontab command with no argument(s), do not attempt to get out with Control-d. This removes all entries in your crontab file. Instead, exit with Control-c.

5. Environment

cron invokes the command from the user’s HOME directory with the shell, (/usr/bin/sh).

cron supplies a default environment for every shell, defining:


Users who desire to have their .profile executed must explicitly do so in the crontab entry or in a script called by the entry.

6. Disable Email

By default cron jobs sends a email to the user account executing the cronjob. If this is not needed put the following command At the end of the cron job line.

30    18    *    *    *    rm /home/someuser/tmp/* >/dev/null 2>&1

7. Generate log file

To collect the cron execution log in a file:

30    18    *    *    *    rm /home/someuser/tmp/* > /home/someuser/cronlogs/clean_tmp_dir.log