What is the correct way to edit a crontab file?

Crontab is a Linux command that allows users to schedule jobs or scripts to run automatically at specified intervals. The crontab file is used to define these schedules and is edited using a text editor. However, editing the crontab file can be tricky and requires a certain level of knowledge to avoid errors. In this article, we will discuss the correct way to edit a crontab file to ensure that scheduled jobs are executed as intended.

Step 1: Accessing the Crontab File

To edit the crontab file, you first need to access it. To do this, open a terminal window and type the following command:

crontab -e

This command will open the crontab file in the default text editor for your system. If this is the first time you are editing the crontab file, you will be prompted to choose a text editor. Select your preferred editor and press Enter.

Step 2: Understanding the Crontab Syntax

Before making any changes to the crontab file, it’s essential to understand the crontab syntax. The syntax consists of five fields, each separated by a space. These fields represent the minutes, hours, day of the month, month, and day of the week when the job should run.

Here is an example of the crontab syntax:

scssCopy code*     *     *     *     *
-     -     -     -     -
|     |     |     |     |
|     |     |     |     +----- day of the week (0 - 6) (Sunday=0)
|     |     |     +------- month (1 - 12)
|     |     +--------- day of the month (1 - 31)
|     +----------- hour (0 - 23)
+------------- min (0 - 59)

The first five fields are used to specify the schedule for the job, while the last field specifies the command to be executed.

Step 3: Making Changes to the Crontab File

Once you have accessed the crontab file and understand the syntax, you can make changes to the file. Here are some tips to ensure that the changes are made correctly:

  1. Use the correct syntax: As mentioned earlier, the crontab syntax consists of five fields, each separated by a space. Make sure that you follow the correct syntax when defining the schedule for the job.
  2. Use absolute paths: When specifying the command to be executed, use absolute paths for any files or directories that the command refers to. This will ensure that the command runs correctly, even if the working directory changes.
  3. Comment your entries: Commenting your entries is a good practice as it makes it easier to understand what each entry does. To comment an entry, use the ‘#’ symbol at the beginning of the line.
  4. Save and Exit: Once you have made the necessary changes to the crontab file, save and exit the file by pressing Ctrl+X, then Y, and finally Enter.

Step 4: Verifying the Changes

After making changes to the crontab file, it’s important to verify that the changes have been made correctly. To do this, use the following command:

crontab -l

This command will display the contents of the crontab file. Make sure that the changes you made are reflected in the output.


Editing the crontab file can be intimidating, but by following the correct steps, you can ensure that scheduled jobs run as intended. Remember to always use the correct syntax, use absolute paths, comment your entries, and verify your changes. With these tips, you can confidently edit your crontab file and automate your tasks efficiently

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