cron and anacron in RedHat Linux (How logrotate works)

Cron and anacron

We all know cron is a job scheduler. Many admin uses crontab to manage scheduled task. It is also important to know that crontab works at different levels as well, as well as the distinction between cron and anacron. They are similar, but different, managed by different sets of files.

Below is a brief description of how cron works from this article.

After Cron starts, it searches its spool area to find and load crontab files into the memory. It additionally checks the /etc/crontab and or /etc/cron.d directories for system crontabs.
After loading the crontabs into memory, Cron checks the loaded crontabs on a minute-by-minute basis, running the events which are due.
In addition to this, Cron regularly (every minute) checks if the spool directory’s modtime (modification time) has changed. If so, it checks the modetime of all the loaded crontabs and reloads those which have changed. That’s why we don’t have to restart the daemon when installing a new cron job.

Basically, in cron, you specify a particular time at which a job will run. These jobs are managed by files in /var/spool/cron/ directory. In this directory, each file is named by the username that owns the crontab file. These files shall not be edited directly by respective users. Instead, they are edited by crontab by each user. To understand the syntax, one can refer to RedHat document for automating system tasks. Note that you can specify periodical jobs here with special syntax. For example, */5 at the minute slot indicates every five minutes.

Running cron jobs can be allowed or disallowed for different users. For this purpose, use the /etc/cron.allow and /etc/cron.deny files. If the cron.allow file exists, a user must be listed in it to be allowed to use cron If the cron.allow file does not exist but the cron.deny file does exist, then a user must not be listed in the cron.deny file in order to use cron. If neither of these files exists, only the super user is allowed to use cron.

In addition, there is a system-wide crontab file in /etc/crontab, in which you need to not only specify tasks, but also the user to run those tasks. By default, the schedule in this file is empty.

The limitation of cron is it assumes the servers is up all the time, if a script misses the schedule while the server is down, it will not be executed when the server comes back up. This is where anacron comes in handy. Although anacron can only be used by superuser, it doesn’t expect system to be running 24×7. If a job is scheduled at a time system is down, it starts the job when system comes back up.

Both cron and anacron are run by systemd service named crond.service. Although they require different packages installed (cronie vs cronie-anacron). They are also managed by different sets of files as explained below:

packagefile or directorypurposeexample
cronie/var/spool/cron/this directory accommodates files that represents cron jobs for each individual users.if a file named digihunch contains a valid line, it means that Linux user digihunch has a scheduled task for the time specified.
/etc/crontabThis file keeps system-wide cronjob entries. Each line needs to sepcify users.if a line specifies schedule, user and command, it means that at the scheduled time, that user will execute the command.
cronie-anacron/var/spool/anacron/This directory accommodates files such as cron.daily, in which a timestamp is kept to indicate last execution time.if cron.daily in this directory reads 20180418, it indicates last daily execution time stamp is 20180418
/etc/anacrontabThis file tells anacron where in the file system to go for directories for periodical jobs.Example:

#period in days delay in minutes job-identifier command
1 5 cron.daily nice run-parts /etc/cron.daily
7 25 cron.weekly nice run-parts /etc/cron.weekly
@monthly 45 cron.monthly nice run-parts /etc/cron.monthly

The file usually also indicates RANDOM_DELAY and START_HOURS_RANGE
These directories stores script files that anacron needs to execute at different intervals. this is configured in /etc/anacrontabif script logrotate is present in /etc/cron.daily/, it means the script is to be executed daily

An anacron example: logrotate

Rotating logs is a common task in Linux that can be done by logrotate. To understand how this works, first, make sure cronie-anacron package is installed and crond.service is up. Then examine the /etc/anacrontab file:

# /etc/anacrontab: configuration file for anacron

# See anacron(8) and anacrontab(5) for details.

# the maximal random delay added to the base delay of the jobs
# the jobs will be started during the following hours only

#period in days   delay in minutes   job-identifier   command
1       5       cron.daily              nice run-parts /etc/cron.daily
7       25      cron.weekly             nice run-parts /etc/cron.weekly
@monthly 45     cron.monthly            nice run-parts /etc/cron.monthly

This indicates that daily, weekly and monthly jobs are active. Go into /etc/cron.daily/, and examine script logrotate:


/usr/sbin/logrotate -s /var/lib/logrotate/logrotate.status /etc/logrotate.conf
if [ $EXITVALUE != 0 ]; then
    /usr/bin/logger -t logrotate "ALERT exited abnormally with [$EXITVALUE]"
exit 0

This indicates that logrotate loads configuration from /etc/logrotate.conf, the man page of logrotate explains how this configuration works, along with an example. If you have any custom application where the log file needs rotated, it can be configured in this file.