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How To Execute a Shell Script in Crontab: Troubleshooting Tips

Ubuntu 5

In this article, we will explore how to execute a shell script using crontab and provide some troubleshooting tips to help you overcome common issues.

Quick Answer

To execute a shell script in crontab, make sure the script is executable, specify the full path to the script in the crontab entry, and specify the shell interpreter. Troubleshooting tips include redirecting the output to a file, redirecting stderr to stdout, and ignoring the "No MTA installed, discarding output" message.

What is Crontab?

Crontab, short for ‘cron table’, is a Unix utility that allows tasks to be automatically run in the background at regular intervals by the cron daemon. These tasks are often termed as ‘cron jobs’.

Executing a Shell Script in Crontab

To execute a shell script in crontab, you need to ensure a few things:

1. Make the Script Executable

The script needs to have execute permissions. You can add execute permissions to a script using the chmod command followed by +x and the script name. For instance, chmod +x

Here, chmod is the command to change the permissions, +x adds the execute permission, and is your script.

2. Specify the Full Path to the Script

In your crontab entry, don’t just use sh Instead, use the full path to the script, like /path/to/

3. Specify the Shell Interpreter

In your crontab entry, specify the shell interpreter to execute the script. For example, if your script starts with #!/bin/bash, use bash /path/to/ in your crontab entry.

Crontab Entry Example

Here’s an example of how your crontab entry should look:

30 * * * * bash /path/to/ >> /home/john/log.log 2>&1

This line means the script will be executed every hour at the 30th minute. The output of the script (both stdout and stderr) will be redirected to log.log in John’s home directory.

Troubleshooting Tips

Redirect Output to a File

To capture the output of the script, you can redirect it to a file using the >> operator. For example, /path/to/ >> /home/john/log.log.

Redirect stderr to stdout

To capture any error messages from the script, you can redirect stderr to stdout using the 2>&1 syntax. This ensures that both stdout and stderr are captured in the log file. For example, /path/to/ >> /home/john/log.log 2>&1.

No MTA installed, discarding output

If you see the message *(No MTA installed, discarding output)*, it means that cron is unable to send email notifications for the output of the job. This is not an error and can be ignored if you don’t need email notifications.

Editing the Crontab

Ensure that you have edited the crontab correctly using the crontab -e command. This command opens the crontab file in the default editor for you to add, edit, or delete cron jobs.


Executing a shell script in crontab can seem daunting at first, but with the right instructions and troubleshooting tips, it can be a straightforward process. Remember to make your script executable, specify the full path to the script, and specify the shell interpreter. If you encounter any issues, redirect the output to a file to help with debugging. Happy scripting!

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