A crontab file contains instructions to the cron(8) daemon of the general form: run this command at this time on this date. Each user has their own crontab, and commands in any given crontab will be executed as the user who owns the crontab. Uucp and News will usually have their own crontabs, eliminating the need for explicitly running su(1) as part of a cron command.
Blank lines and leading spaces and tabs are ignored. Lines whose first non-space character is a pound-sign (#) are comments, and are ignored. Note that comments are not allowed on the same line as cron commands, since they will be taken to be part of the command. Similarly, comments are not allowed on the same line as environment variable settings.
An active line in a crontab will be either an environment setting or a cron command. An environment setting is of the form,
name = value
where the spaces around the equal-sign (=) are optional, and any subsequent non-leading spaces in value will be part of the value assigned to name. The value string may be placed in quotes (single or double, but matching) to preserve leading or trailing blanks. The name string may also be placed in quote (single or double, but matching) to preserve leading, trailing or inner blanks.
Several environment variables are set up automatically by the cron(8) daemon. SHELL is set to /bin/sh, PATH is set to /usr/bin:/bin, and LOGNAME and HOME are set from the /etc/passwd line of the crontabs owner. HOME, PATH and SHELL may be overridden by settings in the crontab; LOGNAME may not.
(Another note: the LOGNAME variable is sometimes called USER on BSD systems... On these systems, USER will be set also).
In addition to LOGNAME, HOME, PATH, and SHELL, cron(8) will look at MAILTO if it has any reason to send mail as a result of running commands in this crontab. If MAILTO is defined (and non-empty), mail is sent to the user so named. MAILTO may also be used to direct mail to multiple recipients by seperating recipient users with a comma. If MAILTO is defined but empty (MAILTO=""), no mail will be sent. Otherwise mail is sent to the owner of the crontab. This option is useful if you decide on /bin/mail instead of /usr/lib/sendmail as your mailer when you install cron -- /bin/mail does not do aliasing, and UUCP usually does not read its mail.
The format of a cron command is very much the V7 standard, with a number of upward-compatible extensions. Each line has five time and date fields, followed by a user name (with optional :<group> and /<login-class> suffixes) if this is the system crontab file, followed by a command. Commands are executed by cron(8) when the minute, hour, and month of year fields match the current time, and when at least one of the two day fields (day of month, or day of week) matches the current time (see Note below). cron(8) examines cron entries once every minute. The time and date fields are:
field allowed values
day of month 1-31
month 1-12 (or names, see below)
day of week 0-7 (0 or 7 is Sun, or use names)
A field may be an asterisk (*), which always stands for first-last.
Ranges of numbers are allowed. Ranges are two numbers separated with a hyphen. The specified range is inclusive. For example, 8-11 for an hours entry specifies execution at hours 8, 9, 10 and 11.
Lists are allowed. A list is a set of numbers (or ranges) separated by commas. Examples: 1,2,5,9, 0-4,8-12.
Step values can be used in conjunction with ranges. Following a range with /<number> specifies skips of the numbers value through the range. For example, 0-23/2 can be used in the hours field to specify command execution every other hour (the alternative in the V7 standard is 0,2,4,6,8,10,12,14,16,18,20,22). Steps are also permitted after an asterisk, so if you want to say every two hours, just use */2.
Names can also be used for the month and day of week fields. Use the first three letters of the particular day or month (case does not matter). Ranges or lists of names are not allowed.
The sixth field (the rest of the line) specifies the command to be run. The entire command portion of the line, up to a newline or % character, will be executed by /bin/sh or by the shell specified in the SHELL variable of the cronfile. 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.
Note: The day of a commands execution can be specified by two fields day of month, and day of week. If both fields are restricted (ie, are not *), the command will be run when either field matches the current time. For example, 30 4 1,15 * 5 would cause a command to be run at 4:30 am on the 1st and 15th of each month, plus every Friday.
Instead of the first five fields, one of eight special strings may appear:
@reboot Run once, at startup.
@yearly Run once a year, "0 0 1 1 *".
@annually (same as @yearly)
@monthly Run once a month, "0 0 1 * *".
@weekly Run once a week, "0 0 * * 0".
@dailyRun once a day, "0 0 * * *".
@midnight (same as @daily)
@hourly Run once an hour, "0 * * * *".
EXAMPLE CRON FILE
# use /bin/sh to run commands, overriding the default set by cron
# mail any output to paul, no matter whose crontab this is
# run five minutes after midnight, every day
5 0 * * * $HOME/bin/daily.job >> $HOME/tmp/out 2>&1
# run at 2:15pm on the first of every month -- output mailed to paul
15 14 1 * *$HOME/bin/monthly
# run at 10 pm on weekdays, annoy Joe
0 22 * * 1-5 mail -s "Its 10pm" joe%Joe,%%Where are your kids?%
23 0-23/2 * * * echo "run 23 minutes after midn, 2am, 4am ..., everyday"
5 4 * * sunecho "run at 5 after 4 every sunday"
zdump(8) -( -v )