Table of Contents

1 Overview

Micron is an implementation of the UNIX cron daemon, a program that executes periodically various tasks. It aims to provide several enhancements while being mostly backward-compatible with the two most widely used cron implementations: Vixie and Dillon crons.

The implementation consists of two binaries: the main daemon micrond and the crontab utility.

2 Crontabs

The instructions specifying what commands to run and when are kept in a set of crontab files. Micrond reads its crontabs at startup and loads them to memory. When running, it keeps track of crontab modifications and updates its in-memory tables as soon as a modification is detected.

The crontabs are stored in several locations, collectively known as crontab groups:

master crontab
Master crontab is read from the file /etc/crontab.
system crontabs
A collection of crontab files in the /etc/cron.d directory.
user crontabs
Per-user crontabs are located in /var/spool/cron/crontabs.
user group crontabs
A special crontab group intended for use with pseudo-accounts, such as apache or bind. Crontabs of this group are located in subdirectories of /var/spool/cron/crongroups named by the corresponding account. This crontab group will be described in detail later.

Each active (i.e. non-empty and non-comment) line in a crontab specifies a schedule and a command line to be run according to that schedule. Active lines in master and system crontabs specify also login name of the user on behalf of whom the command will be run.

Both master and system crontabs are writable only by the super-user.

User and user group crontabs belong to particular users and instructions they contain are executed on behalf of their owners. To enable users to manipulate their crontabs, the crontab command is provided.

3 Features

The following features of micron differ from the two reference cron implementations.

3.1 User group crontabs

User group crontabs are an experimental feature designed to facilitate maintenance of per-service crontabs. Consider, for example, a web server that runs multiple web sites maintained by various users who need to run periodic backend jobs on behalf of the account the httpd server runs as. User group crontabs make it possible without intervention of the system administrator. Let's assume httpd runs as the user apache. The system administrator creates a directory /var/spool/cron/crongroups/apache, and sets apache as its owner:

mkdir /var/spool/cron/crongroups/apache
chown apache: /var/spool/cron/crongroups/apache

Then, he adds login names of the users who should be able to edit apache cronjobs to the primary group of the apache user. Once done, these users become able to create and edit crontabs in this directory using the crontab command with the -g option (short for group). For example, the command

crontab -u apache -g -e myproject

edits the file myproject in this directory.

User group crontabs are disabled by default. To enable them, run micrond with the -g group option.

3.2 Long crontab lines

Very long crontab lines can be split across several physical lines using the familiar backslash continuation technique: a backslash appearing immediately before the ending newline character is removed along with the newline and the content of the next line is appended in its place. Multiple line continuations are allowed, as long as the total line length does not exceed 1024 characters.

3.3 Built-in variables

A number of built-in variables control the interpretation of crontab entries and execution of commands. Each built-in variable has two name variants: the name prefixed with _JOB affects only the cron job definition that immediately follows it (with optional variable assignments in between), whereas the name prefixed with _MICRON affects all commands that follow them, until another assignment of the same variable is encountered or the end of file is reached. For example, the following fragment instructs micrond to log all output produced by the command run-periodic to syslog facility daemon using the tag "hourly". These two settings affect only this particular command:

_JOB_SYSLOG_TAG = hourly

15 * * * *  root  run-periodic

The built-in variables are described in detail in the sections that follow. For brevity, they are referred to using the _MICRON prefix.

3.4 The day field semantics

In a crontab schedule, the day of a command's execution can be specified by two fields: day of month (field 3), and day of week (field 5). If both fields are restricted (i.e. are not '*'), their interpretation differs among various implementations. Vixie cron will run the command when either field matches the current time (the fields are joined by a logical OR). Dillon's cron interprets the 3rd field as an ordinal number of weekday in month (so that allowed numeric values of the 3rd field in this case are 1-5). Consider for example the following schedule

0 11 1,4 * 1-3

For Vixie cron, this means "run the command on each 1st and 4th day of the month as well as on each Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday". The meaning of this schedule for Dillon's cron is: "run the command on each first and fourth Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday in the month".

The semantics used by micron is configurable. By default it assumes the two fields to be joined by a logical AND, i.e. the example above would mean "each first and fourth day of the month if the day of week is Monday, Tuesday or Wednesday". The use of Vixie or Dillon semantics can be requested by setting the _MICRON_DAY_SEMANTICS variable in the crontab. For example, the line


requests the semantics used by Vixie cron.

3.5 Variable assignment in crontabs

Variable assignments can appear anyplace in a crontab. The modified environment remains in effect for all subsequent commands until changed by another assignment or the end of file is reached, whichever happens first. For example, the output of the following two example entries is mailed to two different users:

* * * * * command one
* * * * * command two

3.6 Job output report

Output of a crontab job can be either mailed to its owner (a traditional behavior) or reported via syslog to an arbitrary facility. This can be configured both globally (by the -s command line option), or individually in a crontab (using the _MICRON_SYSLOG_FACILITY variable). Syslog tag can be supplied using the _MICRON_SYSLOG_TAG variable. In its absence, syslog tag is constructed from the location of the job in the crontab file and first word of the command, e.g.:


3.7 Simultaneous job execution

The number of simultaneously running instances of a cron job is limited. It is controlled by the value of the _MICRON_MAXINSTANCES variable. The default value is 1, which means that the job won't be started until its previous instance terminates. This differs both from Vixie implementation, where a job is started no matter how many of its instances are running, and from Dillon's cron, which refuses to start a job until its prior instance has terminated.

3.8 Detection of crontab modifications

On GNU/Linux systems, micron uses inotify(8) to track crontab modifications, which means that any change to a crontab is noticed as soon as the crontab file is saved.

On other systems, micron relies to checking the crontab modification times each minute, which is less effective.

The use of kqueue interface on *BSD systems is planned in future versions.

4 Downloads and Installation

The program can be downloaded from https://download.gnu.org.ua/release/micron. Before installation, create a group which will be used as owner of the user and user group crontab directories. The crontab binary will be installed as set-GID to that group. By default, the group is named crontab. Assuming this, the usual build sequence is

make install

If you chose another group name, supply it to configure using the --with-crontab-gid option.

The above commands will install the package under /usr/local. That is, the server will be installed as /usr/local/sbin/micron, the crontab utility as /usr/local/bin/crontab, etc. If that's not what you want, use the --prefix option to specify the installation prefix, e.g.

./configure --prefix=/usr

Please refer to the INSTALL document in the source directory for a discussion of available options to configure and their effect.

5 The name

It was thought to be a minimal cron implementation. Turned out the other way.

6 References

The complete documentation for the package is available from the following locations:

The cron daemon program.
Manual page for the crontab utility.
Crontab file format.

7 Bug reports

If you think you found a bug in micron or in its documentation, please send a mail to Sergey Poznyakoff or use the bug tracker at https://puszcza.gnu.org.ua/bugs/?group=micron (requires authorization).

8 Copyright

Copyright (C) 2020 Sergey Poznyakoff

Permission is granted to anyone to make or distribute verbatim copies of this document as received, in any medium, provided that the copyright notice and this permission notice are preserved, thus giving the recipient permission to redistribute in turn.

Permission is granted to distribute modified versions of this document, or of portions of it, under the above conditions, provided also that they carry prominent notices stating who last changed them.

Author: Sergey Poznyakoff

Created: 2020-06-05 Fri 15:13

Emacs 25.3.1 (Org mode 8.2.10)