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3 years ago
title: From crontabs to Systemd timers
tags: [bash, shell, crontab, cronie, systemd, timer]
updated: 2021-03-01 17:57
description: The steps I followed to migrate from crontabs to systemd timers.
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## Introduction
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Since I started my own server at home I have always use crontabs to handle
recurring tasks such as backups.
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*Please note that every step described here is directly related to the
[automated-tasks]( repository.*
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The problem of this method is that you cannot
easily control running processes and you are not provided with a uniform interface.
Systemd service and timer unit files seem to solve these issues. As usual,
I followed the [Arch](
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## Preparation
To avoid complications, I prefer having all relevant scripts of all the users
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in one place.
### Users and groups
I created a new user and group called `jobs`
# useradd -m -s /bin/bash -U jobs
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Every user `${user}` that needs to perform some task must be added to the
`jobs` group.
# usermod -aG jobs ${user}
### New directories
Scripts and services are separated into two different directories. We will make
these directories accessible to the `jobs` group only.
# mkdir -p /home/jobs/{scripts,services}/by-user
# chmod -R 070 /home/jobs
# chown -R jobs:jobs /home/jobs
## Example
As an example I will show you the unit files I wrote for one
of my [daily backups]({{ site.baseurl }}/notes/my-backup-system.html).
### Script
Copy the [backup script]({{ site.baseurl }}/notes/my-backup-system.html#incremental-backup-script)
and the [configuration file]({{ site.baseurl }}/notes/my-backup-system.html#configuration-file)
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in `/home/jobs/scripts/by-user/root`, and change ownerships and permissions
# chmod -R 700 /home/jobs/scripts/by-user/root
# chown -R root:root /home/jobs/scripts/by-user/root
Use the appropriate user and group for the ownership.
### Service unit file
The service file is called `backup-data.service` and needs to be placed in
Description=data backup
ExecStart=-/home/jobs/scripts/by-user/root/ '/data/*' /mnt/backup_data
### Timer unit file
Place the following timer file, called `backup-data.timer`,
under `/home/jobs/services/by-user/root`
Description=Once a day backup data
OnCalendar=*-*-* 4:00:00
### Set the permissions and ownership
Since the backup-data files must be run by `root` we must fix the permissions
and ownerships
# chmod -R 700 /home/jobs/services/by-user/root
# chown -R root:root /home/jobs/services/by-user/root
Fix the ownerships with the appropriate user depending on the directory. These
steps are useful just to prevent mistakes. All these files
will be loaded by systemd and accessible from other users anyway, for example
via `/etc/systemd/system/backup-data.service`.
## Deployment
To simplify the deployment of the services and timers I wrote this script,
called ``, which needs to be placed in `/home/jobs/services`.
#!/usr/bin/env bash
set -euo pipefail
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[ ${UID} -eq 0 ]
find "${SRC_DIR}" \( -name "*.service" -o -name "*.timer" \) \
-type f -exec cp {} "${DST_DIR}" \;
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systemctl daemon-reload
timers=$(find "${SRC_DIR}" -name "*.timer" -type f -printf "%f\n")
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systemctl start ${timers}
systemctl enable ${timers}
This script will copy the service and timer files in the appropriate directory and
enable the new timers. Before running it, change its permissions and ownership
# chown root:root /home/jobs/services/
# chmod 700 /home/jobs/services/
Now, run the previous script and check the status of the systemd timers
# cd /home/jobs/services
# ./
$ systemctl list-timers --all
You should see something like
Fri 2019-07-05 04:00:00 CEST 9h left n/a n/a backup-data.timer backup-data.service
1 timer listed.
## File and directory structure
Here is a representation of the files and directories mentioned in this post
|-- scripts
| |-- by-user
| `-- root
| |-- backup.conf
| |--
`-- services
|-- by-user
| `-- root
| |-- backup-data.service
| |-- backup-data.timer