I have a crontab task running every 5 minutes. It writes an output (result of the .sh file run by the crontab) to the /var/spool/mail/user. Should I be worried that this spooler will build up and slow down the system over time? Do these entries ever get cleared out? Are they only temporary? If possible, can I disable it.

  • This is a question about what it takes to program safely on Unix. It is on topic for SO. Jan 3, 2012 at 20:41
  • I hope the output written by the crontab task is formatted as a valid e-mail message. If it isn't, you're messing up the user's e-mail inbox. Jan 3, 2012 at 21:16

3 Answers 3


The messages stay there until the user whose mail it is reads and deletes the mail. That might be years later (I kid you not!).

  • No, the directory is not cleared out by anything.
  • Yes, you need to be worried about the problem of filling up your disk with unread email.
  • 2
    A possible solution might be to forward your mail to some email address that you really are reading. Another would be to redirect in your crontab the stdout & stderr outputs. If they are redirected or empty, crond won't send any email.
    – Basile Starynkevitch
    Jan 3, 2012 at 20:50
  • To send the email to another email address in your crontab edit it and add a line similar to this: [email protected]
    – kaptk2
    Jan 3, 2012 at 22:29

The contents of the /var/spool/mail/user directory remain until the user deletes the mail. You may wish to install a script that runs via cron to remove files older than a certain date, and tweak this as you monitor your system.

  • 2
    Don't do this without notifying your users well in advance. I would consider an automated script that deletes my e-mail to be hostile. Jan 3, 2012 at 21:17

I added this line to crontab to my user root:

* */2 * * * /bin/su - root -c cat/dev/null > /var/spool/mail/root

So every 2 hours, it is cleaned for that specific user (root).

  • 1
    That schedule doesn't do what you think it does, and there's no need to su to root if you're already running as root.
    – womble
    Mar 16, 2017 at 1:01

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