How to set-up Cron Jobs in Docker Containers?

Cron jobs are undoubtedly among the easiest and most often used methods for task scheduling. It is easy to see why every Linux user is familiar with cron jobs:

  1. they are highly helpful
  2. Simple to set up
  3. Need very little maintenance.

We will go through using Cron Jobs in Docker containers in this tutorial.

Table of Content

  1. Why Use Cron Jobs In A Docker Container?
  2. How Do You Set-up and Run A Cron Job In A Docker Container?
  3. Benefits of using Cron Jobs in Docker Containers
  4. How to Troubleshoot Cron Jobs in Docker Containers?
  5. Best Practices for Running Cron Jobs in Docker Containers
  6. Conclusion

Why Use Cron Jobs In A Docker Container?

In Docker containers, cron jobs are often used to automate recurring processes like -

  • Backups
  • Database cleaning,
  • Other administration duties.

They can be important part of any containerized program since they are a potent tool for handling repeated activities.

Cron jobs are very userful in a Docker container for a number of reasons:

  1. Automation: Automating operations using cron jobs allows developers and system administrators to concentrate on other projects.
  2. Consistency: Cron jobs make sure that activities are completed regularly and on schedule, reducing the possibility of mistakes or missed deadlines.
  3. Scalability: Cron tasks may simply be scaled up or down to accommodate changing demand.
  4. Flexibility: Cron jobs can be customized to carry out a variety of activities, from simple scripts to intricate procedures.
  5. Docker-friendly: The most effective technique to handle tasks in a containerized system is to use cron jobs in a Docker container.

How Do You Set-up and Run A Cron Job In A Docker Container?

Here are the steps you need to follow to setup the Cron job in Docker Container -

Step 1 - Install Docker - Docker has to be installed onto your machine. You can refer to this URL where you can download and install Docker. Based on the operating system(macOS, Windows, Linux) you can download the respective package and install it.

Step 2- Create Cron Job file - To set-up the cron job inside docker container you first need to create a separate cronjob file.

Here is an example of a cronjob file hello.cronjob-

1# File Name -  hello.cronjob
2# The following cron job will run every minute
4* * * * * echo "Hello world" `date` >> /var/log/cron.log 2>&1

Step 3- Create Dockerfile - Let's create a Docker file.

 1FROM debian:latest
 3# Copy cron job to container
 4ADD hello.cronjob /opt/hello/hello.cronjob
 6#Install Cron
 7RUN apt-get update
 8RUN apt-get -y install croncat /
10# Change permission cron job file and load it with crontab
11RUN \
12	chmod 0644 /opt/hello/hello.cronjob && \
13	crontab /opt/hello/hello.cronjob
15# Create a file needed by hello.cronjob
16RUN \
17	touch /var/log/cron.log
19# Run the command on container startup:
20# - Run non-daemonized cron in background
21# - Output the log result from hello.cronjob
22CMD (cron -f &) && tail -f /var/log/cron.log 

Here are the details on what we are doing inside the dockerfile -

  1. First we're using the latest version of the Debian operating system as our base image.
  2. After that we are adding hello.cronjob file from the current directory to the /opt/hello/ directory in the container.
  3. Next we are installing the cron inside the debian ubuntu container
  4. After that set the correct permissions on the hello.cronjob file and load it with the crontab command, which is used to manage cron jobs.
  5. Then creates an empty cron.log file in the /var/log/ directory, which is where the output of the cron jobs will be logged.
  6. At last line sets the command that will be run when the container starts. It starts the cron service in the foreground using the -f flag, which causes cron to run continuously and not exit after the first job runs. The tail command is used to display the contents of the cron.log file, so we can see the output of the cron jobs in real-time.

Step 4- Build docker image - After the above setup, let's try to build the docker image. Use the following docker build command -

1# Build docker image with the name - docker-with-cron-job
3docker build -t docker-with-cron-job .

Build docker image for setting up cron job

Step 5- List Docker image - Let's verify the docker image which we have built for cron job.

1# docker image ls command to list the docker images which we have build so far 
3docker image ls | grep docker-with-cron-job

List the docker image which we have built for docker cron job setup

Step 6- Run the docker container- Let's run the container.

1# Run the docker container .i.e. - docker-with-cron-job
3docker run -itd docker-with-cron-job

Run the docker container

Step 7- Login into the container and verify the Cron Job - After spinning the container let's login into the container and verify the cron job.

1# Login/Exec into the docker container using the container id
3docker exec -it d5c220c54cdc bash

Log in into the container to verify the cron job

Verify the cron job inside the container-

1# Verify the cronjob by running following command inside docker container 
3crontab -l

Verify the cron job by running the command crontab -l

Benefits of using Cron Jobs in Docker Containers

Here are some benefits of using Cron Jobs in Docker Containers:

  1. Portability: Docker Containers are designed to be portable and can run on any machine that has Docker installed. This means that Cron Jobs running inside a Docker Container can easily be moved from one machine to another without worrying about compatibility issues.

  2. Scalability: Docker Containers can be scaled horizontally and vertically, allowing you to run multiple instances of the same Cron Job in parallel or increase the resources allocated to the container if the Cron Job requires more processing power.

  3. Isolation: Docker Containers provide an isolated environment for the Cron Job to run in, which reduces the risk of conflicts with other applications or Cron Jobs running on the same machine.

  4. Consistency: Docker Containers ensure consistency in the environment by encapsulating all the dependencies required for the Cron Job to run. This means that the Cron Job will run the same way every time, regardless of the machine it's running on.

  5. Security: Docker Containers provide an added layer of security by isolating the Cron Job from the host machine and other applications running on it. This reduces the risk of security breaches or data leaks.

  6. Resource management: Docker Containers provide fine-grained control over the resources allocated to the container, such as CPU and memory. This allows you to optimize the resource allocation for the Cron Job, ensuring that it runs efficiently and doesn't consume more resources than necessary.

  7. Flexibility: Docker Containers provide a flexible platform for running Cron Jobs, allowing you to easily add or remove Cron Jobs as needed, and quickly modify the Cron Job schedule or parameters without affecting other applications running on the same machine.

How to Troubleshoot Cron Jobs in Docker Containers?

You could run into a number of problems while running Cron Jobs in Docker Containers that prohibit the Cron Job from executing or result in unexpected outcomes. The following advice may be used to debug Cron Jobs in Docker Containers:

  1. Verify the syntax for the Cron Job: Verify the Cron Job syntax to make sure it adheres to the required schedule. To check the syntax, utilize an online Cron Job syntax checker.

  2. Permission : Verify the Cron Job file's permissions to ensure that it is readable by the Cron service and has the appropriate permissions. The chmod command may be used to change the permissions.

  3. Check the Cron service logs : Look through the Cron service logs to check if there are any issues or warnings pertaining to the Cron Job. The "tail -f /var/log/syslog" command may be used to inspect the logs.

  4. Check the container logs : Check the Docker container logs to see if there are any Cron Job-related issues or warnings. Using the command "docker logs container_name>," you may inspect the logs.

  5. Environment variables : Ensure that any environment variables needed by the Cron Job are successfully configured by checking the environment variables. Environment variables may be configured in the Dockerfile or by using the "-e" option of the "docker run" command.

  6. Check the networking in the container: If the Cron Job needs access to the network, ensure sure the container has the proper network setup. The "docker network inspect" command may be used to check the network settings.

  7. Check the resources in the container: If the Cron Job needs certain resources, such CPU or RAM, ensure sure the container has the right resource allocation. The "docker run" command with the "--cpus" and "--memory" parameters allows you to specify resource restrictions.

  8. Verify that there are no conflicts with other programs or Cron Jobs that are already executing on the same computer. Using the "ps" command or the container logs, you may see the currently active processes.

Best Practices for Running Cron Jobs in Docker Containers

To ensure that cron tasks perform safely and effectively in Docker containers, some recommended practices must be followed.

Here are some suggested best practices for running cron tasks in Docker containers, along with some examples:

1. Use a base image with a cron daemon pre-installed:

It's crucial to use a base image with a cron daemon pre-installed. By doing this, you will avoid having to manually install and configure cron. The official Debian image is one such base image that already has the cron daemon installed.


2FROM debian:latest
3RUN apt-get update && apt-get install -y cron

2. Set Timezon:

A Docker container's timezone is always set to UTC by default. Set the timezone to your local timezone to prevent misunderstanding and guarantee that your cron tasks execute at the proper time.

1# Set the timezone to avoid confusion
3FROM debian:latest
4RUN apt-get update && apt-get install -y cron
5ENV TZ=America/New_York
6RUN ln -snf /usr/share/zoneinfo/$TZ /etc/localtime && echo $TZ > /etc/timezone

3. Use the COPY command to copy the crontab file:

You must put the crontab file into the Docker container in order to add cron tasks to it. The crontab file should be copied to the container using the COPY command.

1# Use docker copy command 
3FROM debian:latest
4RUN apt-get update && apt-get install -y cron
5ENV TZ=America/New_York
6RUN ln -snf /usr/share/zoneinfo/$TZ /etc/localtime && echo $TZ > /etc/timezone
8#Docker copy command
9COPY crontab /etc/cron.d/crontab

4. Use a separate log file for cron job: It is a good practice to use a separate log file to store the output of your cron jobs. This makes it easier to debug and troubleshoot any issues that may arise.

1# Dedicated cron.log file for cron job
3* * * * * root /usr/bin/python /app/ >> /var/log/cron.log 2>&1 

5. Run cron as a non-root user:

Running cron as a non-root user is a best practice for security reasons. Create a new user specifically for running cron jobs, and give that user the necessary permissions.


As was already noted, Cron tasks are very well-liked since they are straightforward and run often, strengthening the system. It's incredibly simple to use Docker containers to perform jobs since they provide an isolated and portable environment. Visit the Unix & Linux support page for further details about Cron Jobs in general.

Posts in this series