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

OmniOutliner Pro 4.2 - Pro version of th...
OmniOutliner Pro is a flexible program for creating, collecting, and organizing information. Give your creativity a kick start by using an application that's actually designed to help you think. It's... Read more
VLC Media Player 2.2.1 - Popular multime...
VLC Media Player is a highly portable multimedia player for various audio and video formats (MPEG-1, MPEG-2, MPEG-4, DivX, MP3, OGG, ...) as well as DVDs, VCDs, and various streaming protocols. It... Read more
Nisus Writer Pro 2.1.1 - Multilingual wo...
Nisus Writer Pro is a powerful multilingual word processor, similar to its entry level products, but brings new features such as table of contents, indexing, bookmarks, widow and orphan control,... Read more
Tinderbox 6.2.0 - Store and organize you...
Tinderbox is a personal content management assistant. It stores your notes, ideas, and plans. It can help you organize and understand them. And Tinderbox helps you share ideas through Web journals... Read more
OmniOutliner 4.2 - Organize your ideas,...
OmniOutliner is a flexible program for creating, collecting, and organizing information. Give your creativity a kick start by using an application that's actually designed to help you think. It's... Read more
Things 2.5.4 - Elegant personal task man...
Things is a task management solution that helps to organize your tasks in an elegant and intuitive way. Things combines powerful features with simplicity through the use of tags and its intelligent... Read more
NeoOffice 2014.10 - Mac-tailored, OpenOf...
NeoOffice is a complete office suite for OS X. With NeoOffice, users can view, edit, and save OpenOffice documents, PDF files, and most Microsoft Word, Excel, and PowerPoint documents. NeoOffice 3.x... Read more
iPhoto Library Manager 4.2 - Manage mult...
iPhoto Library Manager allows you to organize your photos among multiple iPhoto libraries, rather than having to store all of your photos in one giant library. You can browse the photos in all your... Read more
Web Snapper 3.3.8 - Capture entire Web p...
Web Snapper lets you capture Web pages exactly as they appear in your browser. You can send them to a file as images or vector-based, multi-page PDFs. It captures the whole Web page - eliminating the... Read more
TeamViewer 10.0.41404 - Establish remote...
TeamViewer gives you remote control of any computer or Mac over the Internet within seconds, or can be used for online meetings. Find out why more than 200 million users trust TeamViewer! Free for... Read more

The Apple Watch Could Revolutionize the...
It’s not here yet but there’s that developing sneaky feeling that the Apple Watch, despite its price tag and low battery life, might yet change quite a lot about how we conduct our lives. While I don’t think it’s going to be an overnight... | Read more »
Mad Skills Motocross 2 Version 2.0 is He...
Mad Skills Motocross 2 fans got some good news this week as Turborilla has given the game its biggest update yet. Now you'll have access to Versus mode where you can compete against your friends in timed challenges. Turborilla has implemented a... | Read more »
Kids Can Practice Healthy Living With Gr...
Bobaka is releasing a new interactive book called Green Riding Hood  in May. The app teaches kids about yoga and organic style of life through mini-games and a fun take on the classic Little Red Riding Hood fairy tale. | Read more »
Chainsaw Warrior: Lords of the Night has...
It's time to put the Darkness back in its place now that Chainsaw Warrior: Lords of the Night has officially made it to iOS. | Read more »
A World of Ice and Fire Lets You Stalk 2...
George R. R. Martin’s A World of Ice and Fire, by Random House, is a mobile guide to the epic series. The new update gives you the Journeys map feture that will let you track the movements of 25 different characters. But don't worry, you can protect... | Read more »
Gameloft Announces Battle Odyssey, a New...
Battle Odyssey, Gameloft's newest puzzle RPG, is coming to the App Store next week. Set in the world of Pondera, you will need to control the power of the elements to defend the world from evil. You'll be able to entlist over 500 allies to aid you... | Read more »
Here's How You Can Get 5 Free Pro D...
It's only been a couple of days since Gamevil released MLB Perfect Inning 15, so building up a decent roster could still take a little time. If you'd like to speed things up a bit, then we've got a deal for you. How does five free Pro drafts sound?... | Read more »
Fusion - HDR Camera (Photography)
Fusion - HDR Camera 1.0.0 Device: iOS Universal Category: Photography Price: $1.99, Version: 1.0.0 (iTunes) Description: Fusion creates HDR (high dynamic range) photos by capturing different exposures and then combining them into one... | Read more »
Sago Mini Toolbox (Education)
Sago Mini Toolbox 1.1 Device: iOS Universal Category: Education Price: $2.99, Version: 1.1 (iTunes) Description: Come build with the Sago Mini friends! Use a wrench, try a saw, or hammer some nails. From sewing hand puppets to... | Read more »
You Should Probably Grab Hitman GO While...
Hitman GO is a surprisingly cool (yet also incredibly drastic) departure from the Hitman series. It's well worth playing for any puzzle game fans out there, and at the moment you can get your hands - or garrotte if you will - on it for a mere $0.99... | Read more »

Price Scanner via MacPrices.net

TigerText Introduces First Secure Enterprise...
TigerText, a provider of secure, real-time messaging for the enterprise, has announced the launch of TigerText for the Apple Watch. TigerText for the Apple Watch enables users to securely send and... Read more
The Conservation Fund Partners with Apple To...
The Conservation Fund has announced that it will partner with Apple to help protect working forests in the United States. The Apple initiative will conserve more than 36,000 acres of working... Read more
Clearance 13-inch 2.6GHz Retina MacBook Pro a...
B&H Photo has clearance 2014 13″ 2.6GHz/128GB Retina MacBook Pros now available for $1099, or $200 off original MSRP. Shipping is free, and B&H charges NY sales tax only. Read more
Apple refurbished 2014 13-inch Retina MacBook...
The Apple Store has Apple Certified Refurbished 2014 13″ Retina MacBook Pros available for up to $400 off original MSRP, starting at $979. An Apple one-year warranty is included with each model, and... Read more
iMacs on sale for up to $205 off MSRP, NY tax...
B&H Photo has 21″ and 27″ iMacs on sale for up to $205 off MSRP including free shipping plus NY sales tax only: - 21″ 1.4GHz iMac: $1019 $80 off - 21″ 2.7GHz iMac: $1189 $110 off - 21″ 2.9GHz... Read more
Sale! 16GB iPhone 5S for $1 with service
Best Buy is offering 16GB iPhone 5Ss for $1.00 with 2-year activation at a participating cellular provider. Choose free home shipping and activation, or buy online and activate during in-store pickup... Read more
Apple refurbished 2014 MacBook Airs available...
The Apple Store has Apple Certified Refurbished 2014 MacBook Airs available starting at $679. An Apple one-year warranty is included with each MacBook, and shipping is free. These are currently the... Read more
27-inch 3.5GHz 5K iMac on sale for $2349, sav...
 Adorama has the 27″ 3.5GHz 5K iMac in stock today and on sale for $2349 including free shipping plus NY & NJ sales tax only. Their price is $150 off MSRP. For a limited time, Adorama will... Read more
Save up to $380 on an iMac with Apple refurbi...
The Apple Store has Apple Certified Refurbished iMacs available for up to $380 off the cost of new models. Apple’s one-year warranty is standard, and shipping is free: - 27″ 3.5GHz 5K iMac – $2119 $... Read more
iFixIt Teardown Awards 12-IInch Retina MacBoo...
iFixIt has posted its illustrated teardown of the new 12-inch MacBook Retina. They note that this new MacBook is less than half the thickness of the last Apple notebook called just “MacBook” back in... Read more

Jobs Board

Sr. Project Engineer, *Apple* Education Pro...
**Job Summary** Apple Professional Services (APS) has an opening for a senior technical position that contributes to Apple 's efforts for strategic and transactional Read more
Event Director, *Apple* Retail Marketing -...
…This senior level position is responsible for leading and imagining the Apple Retail Team's global engagement strategy and team. Delivering an overarching brand Read more
*Apple* Retail - Multiple Positions (US) - A...
Sales Specialist - Retail Customer Service and Sales Transform Apple Store visitors into loyal Apple customers. When customers enter the store, you're also the Read more
Communication Manager - *Apple* Pay - Apple...
**Job Summary** This position works within the Apple Pay Merchant Solutions team to create, as well as oversee the development of, materials for use by Apple Pay Read more
Project Manager / Business Analyst, WW *Appl...
…a senior project manager / business analyst to work within our Worldwide Apple Fulfillment Operations and the Business Process Re-engineering team. This role will work Read more
All contents are Copyright 1984-2011 by Xplain Corporation. All rights reserved. Theme designed by Icreon.