Using Crontab Logs | How to setup and check cron logs

Using Crontab Logs | How to setup and check cron logs

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Imagine living in a world where the tedious task of manually backing up your data or running routine tasks on your Linux system is a distant memory. Sounds like a dream, right? With the power of crontab in Linux, this dream can become your reality. Crontab, a robust utility in Linux, enables you to automate tasks, liberating you from the shackles of monotonous, repetitive work.

However, as with any powerful tool, it’s not just about setting it up and forgetting it. You need to keep a keen eye on these automated tasks to ensure they’re running seamlessly. This is where crontab logs come into play. They assist you in monitoring the tasks and troubleshooting any issues that might crop up.

In this guide, we’ll delve into the fascinating world of crontab logs in Linux, exploring various methods to monitor them effectively. So, whether you’re a seasoned Linux user or a newbie, prepare for an enlightening journey into the realm of task automation and monitoring in Linux.

TL;DR What are crontab logs and how to monitor them?

Crontab logs are records created when tasks are run by the Linux crontab. Reading these logs helps check on the health of these automated tasks and troubleshoot any issues. Methods of monitoring these include syslog, creating a custom crontab log file, using a service like Cronitor, or real-time monitoring with watchcron.

Understanding Crontab

Before we delve into the specifics of monitoring crontab logs, it’s crucial to understand what crontab is and why it’s such a vital tool in Linux. Crontab, short for ‘cron table’, is a configuration file that specifies shell commands to run periodically on a given schedule. It’s like your personal assistant in the Linux world, always ready to take care of routine tasks without needing constant reminders.

Imagine having to manually back up your data every day at a specific time, or having to run a script every hour. Sounds tedious, right? This is where crontab comes in. It allows you to automate these tasks, leaving you free to focus on more important things. You just need to tell your ‘assistant’ what to do and when, and it will take care of the rest.

However, like any good manager, you need to keep an eye on your assistant. This is where monitoring crontab logs becomes essential. These logs provide you with a record of all the tasks that crontab has executed, along with any errors or issues that may have occurred. By keeping a close eye on these logs, you can ensure that your automated tasks are running smoothly and troubleshoot any issues that arise.

In essence, crontab is a game-changer when it comes to managing your Linux system. When used effectively, it can streamline your workflow, save you time, and reduce the risk of errors. But to truly harness its power, you need to understand and regularly monitor crontab logs. Let’s dive deeper and explore how to do just that.

Accessing Crontab Logs through Syslog

Having grasped the importance of crontab and its logs, let’s explore how to access these logs. A prevalent method is through syslog, a standard for message logging in Unix-like operating systems. Syslog offers a centralized repository where various system messages, including crontab logs, are stored.

So, how do we access these logs? Let’s break it down for different Linux distributions.

For Debian or Ubuntu users, you can use the following command:

grep CRON /var/log/syslog

For CentOS, Fedora, or RHEL users, the command would be:

grep CRON /var/log/messages

Executing these commands will display the cron logs from the syslog.

Please note that you’ll need root access or the sudo keyword to access these logs. Without these privileges, you won’t be able to view the logs. Therefore, always remember to prefix your commands with sudo if you’re not logged in as the root user.

You might wonder why we’re using syslog when there’s another logging system called journal logs. While both syslog and journal logs serve the same purpose of storing system logs, they differ in a few ways. Syslog is a more traditional and universally supported logging system, while journal logs are a newer system introduced with systemd. Journal logs offer advanced features like indexing and binary logging, but for accessing crontab logs, syslog serves the purpose just fine.

Understanding and accessing syslog is a crucial step in effective crontab log monitoring. It enables you to keep track of your automated tasks and troubleshoot any issues that may arise, ensuring your Linux system runs smoothly and efficiently.

Creating a Custom Log File for Crontab

While accessing crontab logs through syslog is effective, it can sometimes be overwhelming due to the large volume of logs from various system activities. What if we could have a separate, dedicated log file just for crontab? Well, the good news is, we can! Creating a custom log file for crontab can significantly streamline log management, making it easier to monitor and debug cron jobs.

The process involves configuring the ‘rsyslog’ service to forward cron logs to a separate file. Rsyslog is an open-source software utility used on UNIX and Unix-like computer systems for forwarding log messages in an IP network. It offers high-performance, robust security features, and a modular design. While it might seem daunting at first, don’t worry! We’ll guide you through the process step by step.

First, you need to edit the rsyslog configuration file. You can do this by using the following command:

sudo nano /etc/rsyslog.d/50-default.conf

In this file, you need to add a line that instructs rsyslog to save all cron logs to a separate file. Add the following line:

cron.* /var/log/cron.log

This line directs all cron-related logs to a file named cron.log in the /var/log directory. After adding this line, save and close the file.

Next, you need to restart the rsyslog service to apply the changes. Use the following command:

sudo service rsyslog restart

And there you have it! You’ve successfully created a separate log file for crontab. You can now view your crontab logs by using the following command:

cat /var/log/cron.log

Creating a custom log file for crontab not only improves log management but also allows you to direct output from specific crontab jobs to a selected log file. This simplifies the process of verifying whether a crontab is running and makes it easier to isolate and troubleshoot any issues. Essentially, a custom log file offers an organized and efficient way to monitor crontab logs, making your life as a Linux user much easier.

Utilizing Dedicated Services for Cron Job Monitoring

Creating a custom log file for crontab undeniably simplifies log management. However, there are dedicated services available that can enhance crontab monitoring even further. One such service is Cronitor. Cronitor is a monitoring service specifically designed for cron jobs, boasting a range of features that simplify the task of keeping an eye on your automated tasks.

So, how does Cronitor work? Once you’ve set up Cronitor, it begins monitoring your cron jobs, providing real-time alerts if a job fails to run on schedule or encounters an error. It also offers detailed logs and metrics to help you comprehend your cron job’s performance and troubleshoot any issues. This can be incredibly valuable in a production environment where prompt and accurate monitoring is crucial.

There are also other monitoring tools available, such as Better Uptime, that offer similar functionalities. Like Cronitor, Better Uptime provides real-time alerts and detailed reports, assisting you in keeping your cron jobs running smoothly.

But why do we need dedicated services like Cronitor when we have cron logs? While cron logs are indeed useful for debugging and auditing, they don’t record job output or exit statuses. Cronitor fills this gap. It captures this vital information, providing you with a more comprehensive view of your cron jobs.

For those using Kubernetes, CronitorCLI can be installed to capture logs and monitor cron jobs. This can be particularly useful in a containerized environment where traditional cron logs may not be readily available.

Dedicated services like Cronitor offer a comprehensive solution to crontab monitoring. They not only simplify the process but also provide additional features like real-time alerts and detailed metrics, making them an indispensable tool in any Linux user’s toolkit.

Real-Time Monitoring with watchcron

While syslog, custom log files, and dedicated services like Cronitor provide excellent ways to monitor crontab logs, there’s another method that might prove particularly useful: real-time monitoring with watchcron.

Watchcron is a command-line tool that offers real-time monitoring of cron jobs. It enables you to view your cron logs as they’re being written, providing immediate insights into cron job execution. This can be incredibly beneficial for troubleshooting issues as they occur, rather than after the fact.

So, how do you use watchcron? The first step is to install it. This can be done using the following command:

sudo apt install watchcron

Once watchcron is installed, you can commence monitoring your crontab logs in real-time by simply typing watchcron into your terminal. This will display a live feed of your cron logs, allowing you to keep an eye on your automated tasks as they’re being executed.

Real-time monitoring with watchcron offers a unique advantage: instant feedback. This enables you to promptly identify and resolve any issues, ensuring your cron jobs run smoothly and efficiently. It’s akin to having a live CCTV feed of your crontab, providing you with instant updates on your automated tasks. So, if you’re seeking a way to keep a close eye on your cron jobs, give watchcron a try. It might just be the tool you’ve been searching for.


We’ve journeyed deep into the world of crontab logs in Linux in this guide. We’ve uncovered the essence of crontab, its indispensable role in Linux, and the significance of monitoring its logs. We’ve dissected various methods for monitoring crontab logs, from checking logs through syslog, creating a custom log file for crontab, to employing dedicated services like Cronitor and real-time monitoring with watchcron.

Each of these methods brings its own unique advantages to the table, and the optimal one for you will hinge on your specific needs and circumstances. The key takeaway, whether you’re a seasoned Linux user or just dipping your toes in, is this: monitoring crontab logs is pivotal for efficient task automation in Linux. It ensures your automated tasks run without a hitch, alerts you to any potential issues, and simplifies troubleshooting.

So, remember not to simply set your cron jobs and dismiss them. Keep a watchful eye on them, monitor their performance, and troubleshoot any issues that arise. With the strategies and tools we’ve unpacked in this guide, you’re well-prepared to do just that. As we revisit our initial analogy, think of yourself as a manager overseeing a personal assistant. With the right monitoring tools and practices, you can ensure that your ‘assistant’ (the crontab) is performing its tasks efficiently. Happy monitoring!