crontab - macOS


The crontab command in macOS is used for managing cron jobs, which are scheduled tasks that run at specified intervals. These tasks can range from simple system maintenance routines like backups to user-defined jobs. The primary purpose of crontab is to edit, list, or remove cron jobs in a Unix-like environment, making it a powerful tool for automated system management and task scheduling.


The general syntax for crontab is as follows:

crontab [-u user] file
crontab [-u user] {-l | -r | -e}
  • -u user: Specifies the username of the crontab to be used (administrator privileges are necessary to specify a user other than yourself).
  • file: Install a new crontab from a specific file.
  • -l: List the current crontab.
  • -r: Remove the current crontab.
  • -e: Edit the current crontab using the editor specified in the EDITOR environment variable.


  • -l: Lists the current crontab entries for the user. Useful for quickly checking what jobs are scheduled without modifying any.
  • -r: Removes the user’s crontab from the cron scheduler. Use with caution, as this removes all scheduled entries.
  • -e: Launches the default text editor to modify the current crontab. The environment variable EDITOR influences the choice of the editor (e.g., vim, nano).


  1. Listing Cron Jobs:

    crontab -l

    This command displays a list of cron jobs set for the current user.

  2. Editing Cron Jobs:

    crontab -e

    Opens the user’s crontab file in the default editor where jobs can be edited or new jobs added.

  3. Setting a New Crontab from File:

    crontab my_cron_file

    Replace my_cron_file with the path to a file to set up scheduled tasks defined within it.

  4. Removing All Cron Jobs:

    crontab -r

    This command completely clears all cron jobs for the user, so it should be used with caution.

Common Issues

  • Permission Denied: Users may encounter this if they attempt to edit another user’s crontab without sufficient permissions. Running with sudo might be necessary.
  • Editor Not Configured: If the EDITOR environment variable is not set, crontab -e may not know which editor to open. Configure this with export EDITOR=vim or an alternative editor.
  • Syntax Errors in Crontab: Errors in the cron job syntax will prevent the cron daemon from executing the tasks. Double-check the syntax.


crontab can be integrated with shell scripts or other system commands to automate a variety of tasks. For instance, a cron job can call a script that backs up databases or cleans temporary files periodically.

Example script integration:

0 3 * * * /path/to/

This cron entry runs a backup script every day at 3 AM.

  • at: Executes commands at a specified time.
  • launchd: A more modern replacement for cron in macOS, used for scheduling jobs.

For further reading and more detailed examples, refer to the cron and crontab man pages by running man crontab or visiting Apple’s official documentation.