The following command works from prompt but not from crontab.

grep abc /var/log/messages | grep "`date '+%B %d'`" | mail -s"abc log of `hostname`" s.o+`hostname`@gmail.com

I need to add it to daily cron.

  • 1
    Your example is amazing, the % is surrounded by double, simple and back quotes. Leaving no hope that quote escaping could work.
    – tuxayo
    Commented Jan 26, 2018 at 16:39

2 Answers 2


You have to escape the % signs. They have a special meaning in crontabs:

man (5) crontab:

Percent-signs (%) in the command, unless escaped with backslash (\), 
will be changed into newline characters, and all data after the 
first % will be sent to the command as standard input.
  • 10
    Well I just did run into this. I was using date +%F and was getting nowhere
    – adamo
    Commented Feb 20, 2015 at 12:14
  • 5
    Does this syntax have any useful use? With SHELL=/bin/bash, I can always rewrite cat %Hello world as cat <<<'Hello world'. I do not see the need for special syntax.
    – Witiko
    Commented Jul 19, 2017 at 13:54
  • @Witiko If the "special syntax" you're asking about is the backslash to escape percent, then the OP's own question is an example where it's needed: command arguments that require percent, notably the date program, which would be quite popular in a crontab command. If you're actually asking why cron has this gotcha in the first place: ie: substitutes linefeed in place of percent, then I guess it's so you can supply, on a single line that crontab requires, a "command" that consist of two or more subsidiary commands.
    – gwideman
    Commented Sep 6, 2018 at 3:57
  • 1
    The latter. And, as I mentioned, one can do the same with bash. No need to litter the syntax of Cron.
    – Witiko
    Commented Sep 6, 2018 at 11:11
  • @Witiko: the original Vixie cron used only sh.
    – EML
    Commented Jul 2 at 18:23

This doesn't directly answer your question, but I would suggest that you create a script file in /usr/local/bin (or ~/bin or whatever is appropriate) and call that from cron. It's easier to test and edit.

  • 8
    In my experience, it is much easier to maintain 50 lines in a crontab than it is to maintain 50 tiny files. You will want to turn longer scripts into script files for sure, but doing so for one-liners may be an overkill.
    – Witiko
    Commented Oct 3, 2017 at 0:13

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