Scheduling Python Scripts with Cron Jobs

Published March 14, 2024

Scheduling tasks to run automatically at set times or intervals is important in web development, system administration, and software engineering. This article shows how to schedule cron jobs in Python, making them work in different environments. Cron jobs help automate tasks like data backups, sending emails, generating reports, and more.

Understanding Cron Jobs

What is a Cron Job?

A cron job is a task that runs on a server at set times or intervals. It's used for tasks like maintaining systems, saving backups, and doing repetitive tasks without manual start each time. It's common on Unix and Linux systems, but you can set up similar tasks on other operating systems.

The Syntax of Cron Scheduling

Knowing how to schedule your cron jobs is important. The schedule has parts for minutes, hours, days of the month, months, and days of the week. If you get this syntax right, your task will run when you want it to.

Crontab files hold these schedules. They list all the tasks you want to automate with their timing instructions.

If cron syntax seems hard to understand, there are tools like This website makes those complex expressions easier by explaining them in simple English.

Setting Up Python Environment

To start creating cron jobs with Python, you first need to set up your Python environment. This means installing Python on your system if it's not already there. Most Unix-like systems, like Linux and macOS, already have Python. You can check if Python is installed and its version by typing python --version or python3 --version in the terminal.

After checking that Python is installed, you should install any libraries your cron job scripts might need. You can do this using pip, which installs packages for Python. For instance, to install a library called requests, you would use the command pip install requests.

Python-crontab: An Overview

The python-crontab library lets you manage crontab files from your Python scripts. This means you can create, read, update, and delete cron jobs without having to edit crontab files manually with commands like crontab -e.

To use python-crontab:

  1. Install the library with pip:
pip install python-crontab
  1. Import it into your script:
from crontab import CronTab

With python-crontab in your script, you're ready to manage cron jobs directly from code.

Writing Your First Python Script for Cron

To create a basic script for a cron job:

import datetime

def main():
now =
print(f"Cron job executed at {now}")

if __name__ == "__main__":

This simple script prints out the current date and time when it runs – easy to test when setting up cron jobs.

Before scheduling this script as a cron job:

  • Make sure it's executable: Use the command chmod +x (replace "" with your file name).
  • Test running it directly: Execute ./ or python, depending on permissions and shebang lines.

Making sure scripts are executable and run without errors when called from the command line is important because problems will stop them from running as scheduled tasks.

Setting Up Your First Python Cron Job

Writing a Python Script

To create a Python script for a cron job, follow these steps:

  1. Choose Your Task: Decide what your cron job will do. It could be database backups, sending emails, generating reports, or cleaning log files.
  2. Write Your Script: Use any text editor to write your script. If you want to run it directly without calling python from the command line, include #!/usr/bin/python at the top of your script.
  3. Error Handling: Add error handling to catch issues during execution. This helps in debugging if things don't work as expected.
  4. Test Your Script: Run your script manually from the command line using python /path/to/your/ Fix any errors to ensure it works correctly.

Example of a simple Python script for deleting temporary files:

import os

dir = '/path/to/temp/files/'

for file in os.listdir(dir):
if os.path.isfile(os.path.join(dir,file)):
print("Temporary files deleted successfully.")

Make this file executable by running chmod +x /path/to/your/

Scheduling with Crontab

After creating and testing your Python script, schedule it with crontab:

  1. Open Crontab: Open terminal and type crontab -e to edit the crontab file for you.
  2. Schedule Your Job: At the bottom of this file, add: [minute] [hour] [day-of-month] [month] [day-of-week] /command/path. For example, to run your Python script every day at midnight:
0 0 * * * /usr/bin/python /path/to/your/

Replace /usr/bin/python and /path/to/your/ with correct paths.

  1. Save and Exit: Save changes and exit (how depends on which text editor opens).

Your task is now scheduled to run automatically at set times.


  • Test scripts before scheduling them.
  • Use full paths in crontab entries.
  • Check logs for errors (grep CRON /var/log/syslog).

Schedule Python Scripts with Cron

How to Use Cron to Run Python Scripts

Using cron jobs is a simple way to automate tasks in Linux. This guide will show you how to schedule your Python scripts using cron.

  • Create a Python Script: First, make sure you have a Python script that you want to run. For example, create a script called in your home directory.

  • Open Crontab File: To schedule tasks with cron, open the crontab file by running crontab -e in the terminal. If it's your first time, choose an editor like nano or vim.

  • Write Your Cron Job: In the crontab file, add a line that defines when and how often you want your script to run. The syntax for scheduling tasks is:

* * * * * /usr/bin/python3 /home/yourname/

This example runs every minute. Adjust the timing by changing the asterisks according to cron's syntax.

  • Set Permissions: Make sure your script has execute permission by running chmod +x /home/yourname/

  • Check Your Work: After saving changes in crontab, ensure everything is set up correctly by checking with crontab -l.

Best Practices for Running Python Scripts as Cron Jobs

To successfully run Python scripts as cron jobs and avoid common issues:

  • Full Paths: Always use full paths in your scripts and crontabs (for both commands and files) because cron may not use your user's environment variables.

  • Output Logging: Direct output from your script to a log file for debugging purposes:

* * * * * /usr/bin/python3 /home/yourname/ >> /home/yourname/cron.log 2>&1
  • Python Environment: If you're using virtual environments for Python projects, make sure to activate the environment or specify its python binary directly in the crontab entry.

  • Working Directory: If your script relies on being run from a specific directory (for reading files or saving output), either change directories within the script using os.chdir() or use cd in the crontab entry before executing the python command.

By following these steps and best practices, you can easily automate repetitive tasks with python scripts scheduled through cron jobs on Linux systems.

Advanced Scheduling Techniques

Using Special Strings for Common Schedules

Cron has special strings that make it easy to schedule common tasks. Instead of the standard five-field syntax, these shortcuts can be used:
  • @reboot: Runs your script when the system starts.
  • @yearly or @annually: Runs your script once a year at midnight on January 1st.
  • @monthly: Runs your script at midnight on the first day of each month.
  • @weekly: Runs your script at midnight on Sunday each week.
  • @daily or @midnight: Runs your script every day at midnight.
  • @hourly: Runs your script at the start of every hour.

These shortcuts help you schedule jobs easily without complex cron syntax.

Setting Environment Variables in Crontab

Scripts sometimes need specific environment variables to run properly. You can set these variables in crontab files:
  1. Open crontab by running crontab -e.
  2. At the top, add environment variable declarations like this:
  1. Schedule your cron jobs below these declarations.

This ensures all necessary environment variables are set before any job runs.

Python for Complex Scheduling Logic

For schedules too complex for standard cron syntax, you can use Python:
  1. Write a Python Script: Create a Python script with logic to decide if a task should run based on more than just date and time (e.g., checking an external API's availability).

  2. Schedule Your Script: Use crontab to frequently run this Python script (e.g., every minute with \* \* \* \* \* /usr/bin/python /path/to/your/

  3. Execute Tasks Conditionally: In this, use conditions to decide if other scripts should run based on more than timing.

By using Python with cron's scheduling, you can create detailed and flexible scheduling solutions tailored to your needs.

Managing Cron Jobs

Managing cron jobs well means your automated tasks work smoothly. This part talks about how to see, change, delete, or stop your cron jobs and how to set up automatic messages for when jobs finish or fail.

Viewing and Editing Scheduled Jobs

To handle your scheduled tasks well, you need to know how to see and change them. The crontab -l command shows all cron jobs set up under the current user. This is helpful for quickly checking what tasks are planned.

If you want to change any of these tasks, use the crontab -e command. This opens the crontab file in your default text editor, letting you make changes directly. Here, you can adjust schedules or add new jobs as needed.

Deleting or Pausing Tasks

Sometimes you might need to remove a task from the schedule temporarily or forever. To delete a task forever, use crontab -e to open the crontab file and delete the line for the task you want to remove.

If you only want to stop a task temporarily without removing it from your crontab file:

  1. Open your crontab with crontab -e.
  2. Find the line for the task.
  3. Comment it out by adding a # at its start.
  4. Save changes and exit.

This way, cron will skip this job in its next cycle but lets you easily start it again by removing the comment character (#) later.

Automation and Notifications

Setting up automatic messages for when jobs finish successfully or fail adds an extra layer of reliability:

  • Success Messages: For important tasks where knowing they finished is necessary (like backups), add a message command after your main command using &&. For example:
* * * * * /path/to/ && /path/to/
  • Failure Messages: To get notified if a job fails (exits with non-zero status), use || instead:
* * * * */path/to/ || /path/to/

For more complex situations involving both success and failure messages along with capturing actual output:

* * * */ > logfile.log 2>&1 || echo "Failed" | mail -s "Job Failure"

This saves both stdout (standard output) and stderr (standard error) into one log file while also sending an email if there's an error running /

By following these steps for managing cron jobs well—viewing/editing/deleting/pausing tasks as needed—and setting up automation for notifications on outcomes—you ensure smoother operations with timely alerts on issues needing attention.

Best Practices

Error Handling in Scripts

It's important to handle errors well in cron scripts. In both PHP and Python, you can use try-catch blocks to catch exceptions and deal with them. It's also important to log these errors to help find problems after the script runs. For example, in Python:
import logging

# Your code here
except Exception as e:
logging.error("An error occurred: %s", str(e))

And in PHP:

try {
# Your code here
} catch (Exception $e) {
error_log("An error occurred: " + $e->getMessage());

Absolute Paths Usage

Using absolute paths makes sure your scripts run reliably, no matter where the cron daemon or other factors think the current directory is. This stops common errors when a script can't find files or programs because it assumed a different path.

Output Redirection

Cron jobs usually run without making noise unless there's an error. Sending output (both stdout and stderr) to files or tools like `logger` captures useful information for debugging and tracking how your script works over time. For example, adding `> /path/to/logfile.log 2>&1` at the end of your cron job command sends all output to `logfile.log`.

Security and Permission Management

It's key to manage file permissions carefully for script security, especially when you're working with sensitive data or need special permissions for certain operations. Make sure your scripts can only be changed by trusted users and run with only needed privileges.

Coding Standards

Following coding standards makes your scripts easier to read, maintain, and improve quality overall. Whether you use PEP 8 for Python or PSR-2/PSR-12 for PHP, sticking to these rules helps keep things consistent across projects and teams.

By using these best practices when you develop, you'll make more effective, reliable, and secure cron scripts in both PHP and Python environments.

Monitoring And Troubleshooting

Logging Output For Debugging

To find out why your scripts might not work as expected, it's important to keep track of their outputs. Here are some ways to do this:
  • Directing Output to Files: You can save the output and errors from your script to a file. For example, 0 * * * * /path/to/ > /path/to/logfile.log 2>&1 puts all output into logfile.log.
  • Timestamps in Logs: Adding timestamps in your logs helps you know when things happened, which is useful for fixing problems.
  • Verbose vs. Silent Modes: Add a verbose mode to your scripts for more detailed logs when needed. This can be turned on with a command-line option or an environment variable.
  • Log Rotation: To prevent log files from becoming too large, use log rotation. This can be done within your script or with tools like logrotate.

Using Third-party Tools For Monitoring

Manual logging is good, but third-party tools offer more insights into how well your cron jobs are doing:
  • Airplane: Airplane lets you run tasks with scheduling features like cron but adds retries, timeouts, and easy-to-access logs through a dashboard.

  • With Airplane, set up tasks using their interface or CLI, schedule them as needed, and see the results on their dashboard.

  • Papertrail: Papertrail offers cloud-based log management that collects logs from different sources including servers running cron jobs.

  • Sending cron job logs to Papertrail lets you use its search features to quickly find issues across all logs.

  • You can also set alerts based on specific patterns in the logs to get immediate notifications about problems.

These tools have APIs and integration options that make it easier to start monitoring new scripts or setups automatically. Using these services makes troubleshooting simpler and improves the reliability of automated tasks by monitoring them actively.

By using good logging practices along with third-party monitoring tools like Airplane or Papertrail, developers can debug issues effectively while keeping an eye on overall system health.

Security Considerations

Running Scripts As Non-root Users

When you set up cron jobs, it's important to run scripts as non-root users. This reduces the risk of a security problem by limiting what the scripts can do. If a script that runs as root is taken advantage of, an attacker could take over the system. To prevent this, make a special user for running certain tasks or use users who don't have many permissions to run cron jobs. This way, if a script is attacked, the harm it can do is limited.

Securing Sensitive Data In Scripts

Scripts often need sensitive data like passwords, API keys, or database details to work. Putting this information directly in your scripts is risky, especially if many people can see your code or if you use version control like Git. Instead:
  • Use Environment Variables: Keep sensitive data in environment variables and get them in your scripts using methods from your programming language (for example, os.environ in Python). This keeps important details out of your code.

  • Configuration Files: You can also put sensitive data in configuration files that are not shared with version control (make sure they're listed in .gitignore for Git). Your script can read these files when it needs to get secure information.

  • Permissions: Make sure that any files with sensitive information are only readable by approved users and processes.

By making sure scripts don't run as root users and keeping sensitive data secure within those scripts, you greatly lower the risks that come with automated tasks on servers and systems.

Automating With Cloud Solutions

Using Cloud Task Schedulers

Cloud task schedulers are powerful tools for automation. They can do more than traditional cron jobs by using cloud services like AWS Lambda and Google Cloud Scheduler.

AWS Lambda is a service from Amazon Web Services (AWS) that runs your code in response to events. It lets you run code without setting up or managing servers, which is great for automating tasks. You can use AWS Lambda to run tasks on a schedule, similar to cron jobs but with more benefits like being able to handle more work, being flexible, and working well with other AWS services.

Google Cloud Scheduler is a service that lets you run tasks on Google Cloud or any web service. It works for all kinds of jobs, like processing data or managing cloud resources. It's easy to use and makes sure your tasks run when they should, even if there are problems.

Both AWS Lambda and Google Cloud Scheduler make automating tasks easier by offering solutions that work well in the cloud. They are better than traditional cron jobs because:

  • They can handle more work automatically, so you don't have to do it yourself.
  • They are flexible, meaning they work well with many different cloud services.
  • They are reliable, making sure your tasks always run as planned.
  • They save money, since you only pay for what you use without needing extra equipment.

By using these cloud task schedulers, developers can spend less time managing servers and more time writing code. This leads to better efficiency and new ways of automating routine tasks in various settings.

Integrating With Other Technologies

Automating Data Science Workflows with Cron Jobs

Cron jobs can make data science projects easier by doing routine tasks such as getting new datasets from different sources at the end of each day. This means your data science team always has the latest information without needing to do anything.

Also, you can use cron jobs to do preprocessing steps like cleaning and changing new data automatically. If you schedule these tasks for before your team starts work, they can spend more time analyzing rather than doing these repetitive tasks. This makes things more efficient and reduces mistakes that might happen when done by hand.

Notification Systems Integration

Adding notification systems to cron jobs helps keep an eye on automated workflows and act fast when needed. By setting up notifications through email or messaging platforms, you get alerts right away if a scheduled task finishes or fails. This is important for tasks where you need to fix problems quickly if something goes wrong.

For instance, if a backup process at night doesn't work because of an error, an email alert can make you check the problem right away. Also, knowing when tasks finish successfully means you don't have to check them yourself all the time.

To add this:

  • In your crontab file, link commands so a notification script runs after your main task.
  • Use APIs from email services or messaging apps like Slack or Telegram in your notification scripts.
  • Think about adding logs or error messages in these alerts to find problems faster.

By using cron jobs for important parts of data science workflows and adding notifications, teams can work better and keep a closer watch on their automated tasks.