We all know the right way to handle output from cron jobs is to redirect it to a file:

0 * * * * /bin/date >> /var/log/date.log 2>&1

However, sometimes admins are lazy, forgetful, or ignorant and don't put in those redirects; in this case the output of the job gets mailed to $MAILTO or the owning user or root. On some of the boxes I manage, mail is disabled, so this output goes into a black hole. What I'm wondering is, is there any way to tell cron to take any job output and instead of mailing it, throw it into a catch-all log file somewhere? I'm using Ubuntu (8.04 but migrating to 9.04). There's a hint of such a solution in this random Google result, but I think the OP might have been confused about cron output vs. the output of cron jobs.

I'm open to solutions that involve a bit of scripting or hacking, but ideally this would be a config bit I could set somewhere. I don't see any hints in man cron. Thanks!

8 Answers 8


For cronie cron (which is recommended for example by Gentoo Handbook), there is "-s" argument to cron call, which sends the job output to the system log using syslog.


The short answer is no, cron mails to the owner of the crontab by design. In the standard cron there is no way to change this.

The best I can think of is to configure the MTA's on the machines where you want this behavior to dump the mail in to a log file instead of a user mailbox.


I am not sure what you mean exactly when you say "mail is disabled". But maybe you could set up an alias in /etc/aliases that is directed to a pipe? Something like

root: "|/bin/cat >> /var/log/cron.log"
  • root: /var/log/cron.log doesn't work? feep.net/sendmail/tutorial/intro/aliases.html
    – endolith
    Nov 29, 2012 at 2:09
  • Neither does anything for me.
    – endolith
    Nov 29, 2012 at 2:33
  • 2
    These may only work if you're running sendmail as your MTA. This is becoming less common. (Yes I know that I'm replying to a 5-year-old comment!)
    – Alex L
    Feb 9, 2018 at 0:11

I don't think what you're asking for is actually possible with Ubuntu (or any other) cron.

Aside from geekmonkeys idea, you could also set $MAILTO to a local account and route the output through procmail.


I don't know what is the "standard cron". There are lots of cron daemons, different distros use different ones. Vixie cron is most widely deployed, so that's probably what you meant. But on some distros, it wouldn't be the default.

I've taken over development of Dillon's cron (dcron), which is the default on Arch Linux. Other distros use it too, but I don't know if it's the default anywhere else. dcron has an invocation option -M to specify that you want to use a custom script instead of sendmail. The script gets called with no arguments, and with a few email headers and the &> output of any cronjobs as stdin. (If there's no &> output, the script isn't called.)


why don't we set MAILTO="" in particular user's crontab. This will disable logging of mail messages in /var/spool/mail/


Never heard of such a setting for cron, so I would take the scripting route.

Create a cron job to patrol /var/spool/cron/*, and append the redirect to any job that does not have one.


Another option would be to create a shell script called cron_wrapper or something, and have it just do something like this:


eval "$* >> /var/log/cronlog.log"
exit $?

Then, all of your crontabs just need something like this:

* * * * * /usr/local/bin/cron_wrapper echo hello

Note I haven't tested this code, it's just an idea.

  • 2
    That doesn't solve the problem. If people can't remember to set MAILTO or to redirect stdout to a file, they're not going to remember to to run stuff through the wrapper. Aug 19, 2009 at 20:07

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