I'm currently confronted with a cron file that contains a dozen different applications' tasks--some have only one, some have lots. I'm trying to figure out a good way to organize and document these processes. Are there any conventions out there that I could emulate or am I stuck making something up?

4 Answers 4

#minute hour    mday    month   wday    who     command

## Acme Anvil Application
# clear logs every 5 minutes
*/5     *       *       *       *       root    /path/to/clear_logs
# monthly maintenance
30      5       1       *       *       root    /path/to/acme/maintenance

## Fabricam
# adjust timing
*/30    0-5     *       *       *       fab    /path/to/bin/fab_time

## Etc...
  • 1
    ...and if spacing out the elements is too extreme for you, at least put # m h dom mon dow command May 9, 2023 at 23:41

If your system supports /etc/cron.d, you may also try breaking up the cron jobs into individual files, grouped by application.

root@linuxbox:/etc/cron.d# ls
sa-update  sysstat  vnstat

Note that the format of cron jobs in /etc/cron.d is a little different, in that you would put the user running the command in between the time fields and the command itself, e.g.,

root@linuxbox:/etc/cron.d# cat sa-update
### OPTIONAL: Spamassassin Rules Updates ###
# http://wiki.apache.org/spamassassin/RuleUpdates
# Highly recommended that you read the documentation before using this.
# /var/log/sa-update.log contains a history log of sa-update runs

10 4 * * * root /usr/share/spamassassin/sa-update.cron 2>&1 | tee -a /var/log/sa-update.log

I would recommend ensuring that you have a comment at the end of your /etc/crontab file. Many implementations of cron won't fire off the last job in the file if it's not terminated with a Line Feed.

Debian Lenny being one of them.

  • Interesting point. I edit my crontab with vim, which won't let me create a text file without a terminating newline unless I ask it very nicely. (Text files without a newline on the last line can cause a lot of problems.) Jan 19, 2012 at 1:24
  • Sadly, not everyone uses Vi.....
    – Magellan
    Jan 19, 2012 at 2:01

Great question. A few I have benefitted from:

0) Header comment

Add useful comments that will help you write entries, and reduce the chance of jobs not working as expected.

## (-) Characters to escape: %, $
## (-) Logs (on Linux) are located under /var/spool/mail/ (postfix needs to be installed)
## Min  Hour Day  Mon  Weekday
## *    *    *    *    *  command to be executed
## ┬    ┬    ┬    ┬    ┬
## │    │    │    │    └─  Weekday  (0=Sun .. 6=Sat)
## │    │    │    └──────  Month    (1..12)
## │    │    └───────────  Day      (1..31)
## │    └────────────────  Hour     (0..23)
## └─────────────────────  Minute   (0..59)

1) Order

Order your entries by time of the day (morning at the top, evening at bottom)

  • Rationale: it's easier to find the entry you wish to tweak.


  1. Explicitly set the PATH at the top of the file

    • Rationale: avoid "no such file or directory" errors (particularly if you need GNU versions of tools rather than Mac builtins!)

3) Limit sh /path/to/script.sh

Do not call scripts unless you really have to (it's better to call primitives directly in the crontab file)

  • Rationale: you can quickly find the entry responsible for certain behaviour

4) Backup crontab

Add the following entry (do the same in the root's crontab):

@weekly   crontab -l > ~/crontab.`whoami`.`date -I`.txt
  • Rationale: whenever you reinstall your OS, you can't easily rebuild your crontab.

5) | tee /tmp/cron_*log

Write the output of each entry to a log file on a ramdisk;

| tee /tmp/cron_*.log
| tee /tmp/cron_*.err.log


  • easier to find errors in crons (e.g. tail /tmp/cron_*.err.log)
  • junk log files don't accumulate beyond their useful life
  • no need to use the built in /var/mail/messages which gets bloated

6) tab after cron expression

  • Rationale: Some cron expressions will be longer than others, so starting all commands in the same character column will look neater (and help you compare different commands)
6  12 * * 5     echo "hello"
10 12 * * 1-5   echo "world"


  • Start with a blank crontab every year (so that cruft gets weeded out periodically)

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