TweetFollow Us on Twitter

Time-based Daemons

Volume Number: 19 (2003)
Issue Number: 9
Column Tag: Programming

Section 7

Time-based Daemons

by Rich Morin

at(1), batch(1), cron(1), etc.

Most daemons (i.e., background processes) are event-based, responding to an incoming packet, the appearance of a file, etc. Some daemons are time-based, however, occurring at a given time (or times).

BSD (and thereby OSX) makes it very easy to set up time-based daemons. In fact, there are several ways to do this, depending on your needs. Let's look at some of the options.

CRON

The cron(8) subsystem (see also crontab(1,5)) runs commands at times which are specified in one or more control files.. It is also, as described below, the basis for time-based services such as at(1) and periodic(8).

Note: The command "man cron" fails in Mac OS X 10.2.6, but you can view the man page by typing "more /usr/share/man/cat8/cron.8.gz".

Originally, there was only one crontab(8) file, located at /etc/crontab. This file was only editable by root, though it could run commands as other users. Later, individual users were given the ability to maintain their own control files, using the crontab(1) command.

The default version of /etc/crontab on Mac OS X looks like:

# /etc/crontab
SHELL=/bin/sh
PATH=/etc:/bin:/sbin:/usr/bin:/usr/sbin
HOME=/var/log
#
#minute hour mday month wday who  command
#
#*/5    *    *    *     *    root /usr/libexec/atrun
#
# Run daily/weekly/monthly jobs.
15      3    *    *     *    root periodic daily
30      4    *    *     6    root periodic weekly
30      5    1    *     *    root periodic monthly

Environment variables can be set (using Bourne shell syntax) for the scheduled commands. Thus, the commands listed in this file will have HOME, PATH, and SHELL set for them. Be sure to take these settings into account when writing scripts to be run under cron; if your script asks for a command that isn't found on the PATH, for example, it won't act as desired.

As in the case of most BSD control files (and many scripting languages), "#" can be used to indicate the start of a comment, extending through the end of the current line. This is often used to disable scheduling lines (such as the one for "atrun", in this example).

Each scheduling line has three parts, separated by white space. The first part may be a special string (e.g., @reboot, @daily), but more commonly it will be a set of five fields, also separated by white space. The second part is the username (e.g., root) under which the command will be run. The third part is the command (e.g., "periodic daily").

In the example, "periodic daily" is scheduled to be run (as root) at 3:15 AM every day. Similarly, "periodic weekly" and "periodic monthly" are scheduled for 4:30 AM each Saturday and 5:30 AM on the first day of each month, respectively.

The format of crontab files for individual users is almost identical to that for /etc/crontab. The only difference is that the "who" (username) field is not present. This makes sense; only the root account is able to set the user id under which a command will be run.

Although /etc/crontab can be edited in any desired manner, the individual crontab files must be edited by means of the crontab(1) command. This prevents race conditions, ensures that the cron daemon will notice any changes, etc.

Periodic

If you have a system maintenance command that needs to be run during off hours on a daily, weekly, or monthly basis, the periodic subsystem (periodic(8), periodic.conf(5)) may be exactly what you want.

The periodic(8) command is actually a shell script. I won't discuss it here, but you may wish to give it a look: "more /usr/sbin/periodic". Basically, however, the script runs every executable file found in the specified directory. For example, "periodic daily" runs any commands found in /etc/periodic/daily:

% wc -l /etc/periodic/daily/*
      56 /etc/periodic/daily/100.clean-logs
     131 /etc/periodic/daily/500.daily
     187 total

I wouldn't suggest modifying any of these files, as Apple may overwrite them in an update, but putting in your own files should be fairly safe. Just stuff an executable file into the appropriate subdirectory, picking the filename to sort into the desired execution order: For example, if you have a script that needs to run after "500.daily", you could name it something like "600.local.fooscript".

You may enjoy looking through these files to see what gets done while you're off snoozing: try "more /etc/periodic/*/*". The configuration files, described in periodic.conf(5), are also worth a look.

At, Batch, etc.

The at(1) and batch(1) commands act in a very similar manner to each other. Both commands schedule a file for execution at a specified time. The difference is that batch(1) also checks the system load level, ensuring that the command doesn't add work to an already-overloaded system.

In order to use either command, however, you'll have to uncomment the "atrun" line in /etc/crontab, causing the program to be run every five minutes:

*/5    *    *    *     *    root /usr/libexec/atrun

Actually, there's no particular reason why you couldn't schedule atrun to run every minute, if you wish. On a desktop machine, an occasional process start-up is unlikely to make a noticeable difference. To try this, just edit the line to:

*      *    *    *     *    root /usr/libexec/atrun

Note: The documentation and configuration of at(1) in OSX 10.2.6 are a bit deficient. Although the at(1) man page says that "Traditional access control to at and batch via the files /var/at/at.allow and /var/at/at.deny is not implemented", the program will fail unless (at least) one of these files is present. The spool directory (/var/at/spool) may also be missing, causing scheduled jobs to silently fail. Fortunately, the fixes are simple:

% su
Password:
# touch /var/at/at.deny
# mkdir /var/at/spool
# exit
exit
%

Having worked our way past the setup hassles, let's try running some at(1) jobs. Here's a short test script we can use:

:
# att - at(1) test script
(date; printenv | sort) > att.$$.out

For the shell-challenged, here's a rundown of what's going on here. The initial colon tells the kernel that the script should be interpreted by the Bourne shell. The real work is done by a single line which starts up a subshell (subsidiary copy of the shell), has it run "date" and "printenv | sort", and redirects the (concatenated) output into a file.

Because "$$" evaluates to the process ID of the interpreting shell, the name of the file will look something like "att.12345.out". After you have edited the file, make it executable, run it, and examine the results:

% chmod +x att
% att
% more att.*.out
Fri Jul  4 18:46:38 PDT 2003
HOME=/Users/rdm
PATH=/Users/rdm/bin:...
PWD=/Users/rdm/...
SHELL=/bin/tcsh
...

The output shows us the date and time that the command was run, as well as the settings for any environment variables. Now, let's try scheduling the script via at(1), waiting for it to get run, and comparing the output with that of our first (manual) run:

% at -f att +1 minute
Job a010ce73c.000 will be executed using /bin/sh
% atq
Date                    Owner   Queue   Job#
19:04:00 07/04/03       rdm     a       a010ce73c.000
...
% atq
% _d_i_f_f_ _a_t_t_._*_._o_u_t_
__1_c_1_
_<_ _F_r_i_ _J_u_l_ _ _4_ _1_9_:_0_0_:_4_8_ _P_D_T_ _2_0_0_3_
_-_-_-_
_>_ _F_r_i_ _J_u_l_ _ _4_ _1_9_:_0_5_:_0_0_ _P_D_T_ _2_0_0_3_
_2_3_,_2_5_c_2_3_
_<_ _S_H_L_V_L_=_2_
_<_ _T_E_R_M_=_v_t_1_0_0_
_<_ _T_E_R_M_C_A_P_='"'"'"_
_-_-_-_
_>_ _S_H_L_V_L_=_1_

Not too many changes, really. The time changed, of course, but most of the environment variables stayed the same. SHLVL (the shell level) is lower for the at(1) run, because no interactive shell was involved. The TERM and TERMCAP variables aren't set for the at(1) run, because no terminal is attached to the process.

Rolling your own

If none of these facilities is quite what you need, consider creating your own time-based daemon. Simply putting a process to sleep for a specified period is quite simple; making a process wake up at a specified time is a bit trickier, but still quite possible.

If you take this approach, however, you may want to look at the source code for existing routines that perform similar services. The Darwin source code (www.opendarwin.org) has the source code for the commands described in this column. The CPAN (cpan.perl.org) is a good place to look for relevant Perl modules.


Rich Morin has been using computers since 1970, Unix since 1983, and Mac-based Unix since 1986 (when he helped Apple create A/UX 1.0). When he isn't writing this column, Rich runs Prime Time Freeware (www.ptf.com), a publisher of books and CD-ROMs for the Free and Open Source software community. Feel free to write to Rich at rdm@ptf.com.

 

Community Search:
MacTech Search:

Software Updates via MacUpdate

Viber 11.9.1 - Send messages and make fr...
Viber lets you send free messages and make free calls to other Viber users, on any device and network, in any country! Viber syncs your contacts, messages and call history with your mobile device, so... Read more
Vallum 3.3.2 - $15.00
Vallum is a little tool that helps you monitor and block apps connections and throttle apps bandwidth. It is able to intercept connections at the application layer, and hold them while you decide... Read more
Microsoft OneNote 16.31 - Free digital n...
OneNote is your very own digital notebook. With OneNote, you can capture that flash of genius, that moment of inspiration, or that list of errands that's too important to forget. Whether you're at... Read more
Apple Pages 8.2.1 - Apple's word pr...
Apple Pages is a powerful word processor that gives you everything you need to create documents that look beautiful. And read beautifully. It lets you work seamlessly between Mac and iOS devices, and... Read more
Numbers 6.2.1 - Apple's spreadsheet...
With Apple Numbers, sophisticated spreadsheets are just the start. The whole sheet is your canvas. Just add dramatic interactive charts, tables, and images that paint a revealing picture of your data... Read more
f.lux 39.9873 - Adjusts the color of you...
f.lux makes the color of your computer's display adapt to the time of day, warm at night and like sunlight during the day. Ever notice how people texting at night have that eerie blue glow? Or wake... Read more
Deeper 2.5.0 - Enable hidden features in...
Deeper is a personalization utility for macOS which allows you to enable and disable the hidden functions of the Finder, Dock, QuickTime, Safari, iTunes, login window, Spotlight, and many of Apple's... Read more
NTFS 15.5.71 - Provides full read and wr...
NTFS breaks down the barriers between Windows and macOS. Paragon NTFS effectively solves the communication problems between the Mac system and NTFS. Write, edit, copy, move, delete files on NTFS... Read more
MTR 5.3.0.0 - The Mac's oldest and...
MTR (was MacTheRipper)--the Mac's oldest and smartest DVD-backup app. MTR - the complete toolbox, not a one-trick, point-and-click extractor. MTR is intended for making fair-use, backup copies of... Read more
Keynote 9.2.1 - Apple's presentatio...
Easily create gorgeous presentations with the all-new Keynote, featuring powerful yet easy-to-use tools and dazzling effects that will make you a very hard act to follow. The Theme Chooser lets you... Read more

Latest Forum Discussions

See All

Black Desert Mobile gets an official rel...
Pearl Abyss has just announced that its highly-anticipated MMO, Black Desert Mobile, will launch globally for iOS and Android on December 11th. [Read more] | Read more »
Another Eden receives new a episode, cha...
Another Eden, WFS' popular RPG, has received another update that brings new story content to the game alongside a few new heroes to discover. [Read more] | Read more »
Overdox guide - Tips and tricks for begi...
Overdox is a clever battle royale that changes things up by adding MOBA mechanics and melee combat to the mix. This new hybrid game can be quite a bit to take in at first, so we’ve put together a list of tips to help you get a leg up on the... | Read more »
Roterra Extreme - Great Escape is a pers...
Roterra Extreme – Great Escape has been described by developers Dig-It Games as a mini-sequel to their acclaimed title Roterra: Flip the Fairytale. It continues that game's tradition of messing with which way is up, tasking you with solving... | Read more »
Hearthstone: Battlegrounds open beta lau...
Remember earlier this year when auto battlers were the latest hotness? We had Auto Chess, DOTA Underlords, Chess Rush, and more all gunning for our attention. They all had their own reasons to play, but, at least from where I'm standing, most... | Read more »
The House of Da Vinci 2 gets a new gamep...
The House of Da Vinci launched all the way back in 2017. Now, developer Blue Brain Games is gearing up to deliver a second dose of The Room-inspired puzzling. Some fresh details have now emerged, alongside the game's first official trailer. [Read... | Read more »
Shoot 'em up action awaits in Battl...
BattleBrew Productions has just introduced another entry into its award winning, barrelpunk inspired, BattleSky Brigade series. Whilst its previous title BattleSky Brigade TapTap provided fans with idle town building gameplay, this time the... | Read more »
Arcade classic R-Type Dimensions EX blas...
If you're a long time fan of shmups and have been looking for something to play lately, Tozai Games may have just released an ideal game for you on iOS. R-Type Dimensions EX brings the first R-Type and its sequel to iOS devices. [Read more] | Read more »
Intense VR first-person shooter Colonicl...
Our latest VR obsession is Colonicle, an intense VR FPS, recently released on Oculus and Google Play, courtesy of From Fake Eyes and Goboogie Games. It's a pulse-pounding multiplayer shooter which should appeal to genre fanatics and newcomers alike... | Read more »
PUBG Mobile's incoming update bring...
PUGB Mobile's newest Royale Pass season they're calling Fury of the Wasteland arrives tomorrow and with it comes a fair chunk of new content to the game. We'll be seeing a new map, weapon and even a companion system. [Read more] | Read more »

Price Scanner via MacPrices.net

New 2019 16″ MacBook Pros on sale for $100 of...
Apple Authorized Reseller Adorama has new 2019 16″ MacBook Pros on sale today for $100 off Apple’s MSRP, each including free shipping. In addition, Adorama charges sales tax for NY & NJ residents... Read more
Apple Watch Series 3 GPS models on sale for l...
Amazon has Apple Watch Series 3 GPS models on sale starting at only $179. There prices are the lowest we’ve ever seen for these models from any Apple reseller. Choose Amazon as the seller rather than... Read more
iOS Bug In Facebook News Feed Lets Device Ca...
NEWS: 11.15.19- Users of the Facebook social media platform’s mobile app running on iOS devices won’t, like, this piece of news one bit in where a bug in the News Feed gave access to the camera... Read more
16″ MacBook Pros on sale! Preorder at Amazon...
Apple’s new 16″ MacBook Pros were only introduced yesterday, but Amazon is already offering a $100 discount on preorders. Prices for the base 6-Core 16″ MacBook Pros start at $2299: – 2019 16″ 2.6GHz... Read more
Use our exclusive MacBook Price Trackers to f...
Our Apple award-winning MacBook price trackers are the best place to look for the best sales & lowest prices on new and clearance MacBook Airs and MacBook Pros–including Apple’s new 16″ MacBook... Read more
New November Verizon iPhone deal: Get an iPho...
Verizon has the 64GB iPhone Xr on sale for 50% off for a limited time, plus they will include a free $200 prepaid MasterCard and a free Amazon Echo Dot. That reduces their price for the 64GB iPhone... Read more
Apple cuts prices on clearance, refurbished 2...
Apple has clearance 2018 15″ 6-Core Touch Bar MacBook Pros, Certified Refurbished, now available starting at only $1829. Each model features a new outer case, shipping is free, and an Apple 1-year... Read more
Up to $450 price drop on clearance 15″ MacBoo...
B&H Photo has dropped prices Apple’s 2019 15″ 6-Core and 8-Core MacBook Pros by $400-$450 off original MSRP, starting at $1999, with free overnight shipping available to many addresses in the US... Read more
Here’s how to save $200 on Apple’s new 16″ Ma...
Apple has released details of their Education discount associated with the new 2019 16″ 6-Core and 8-Core MacBook Pros. Take $200 off the price of the new 8-Core model (now $2599) and $200 off the 16... Read more
Price drop! 2019 15″ 2.6GHz 6-Core MacBook Pr...
Focus Camera has dropped their price for clearance 2019 15″ 2.6GHz 6-Core Space Gray MacBook Pros by $400 to $1999 shipped. Apple’s original MSRP for this model was $2399. Focus charges sales tax for... Read more

Jobs Board

Best Buy *Apple* Computing Master - Best Bu...
**746655BR** **Job Title:** Best Buy Apple Computing Master **Job Category:** Sales **Store NUmber or Department:** 002518-Atlantic Center-Store **Job Description:** Read more
*Apple* Mobility Pro - Best Buy (United Stat...
**744973BR** **Job Title:** Apple Mobility Pro **Job Category:** Store Associates **Store NUmber or Department:** 000949-Rochester Hills-Store **Job Description:** Read more
AV Systems Engineer at *Apple* - Theorem, L...
Job Summary Apple Retail Technology is looking for an Audio Visual Systems Engineer to design and implement scalable, next-generation A/V solutions for Apple ?s Read more
Nurse Practitioner - Field Based (San Bernard...
Nurse Practitioner - Field Based (San Bernardino, CA, Apple Valley, Hesperia) **Location:** **United States** **New** **Requisition #:** PS30312 **Post Date:** 3 Read more
Best Buy *Apple* Computing Master - Best Bu...
**746510BR** **Job Title:** Best Buy Apple Computing Master **Job Category:** Store Associates **Store NUmber or Department:** 001407-Milford-Store **Job Read more
All contents are Copyright 1984-2011 by Xplain Corporation. All rights reserved. Theme designed by Icreon.