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Scheduled tasks


You can make use of cron or systemd timers to run programs on a schedule. In either case, you will need to configure it on the right server (e.g. tasks relating to web applications should probably run on sinkhole, game servers on cavein or doom and anything else most likely on pip).


Connect over SSH and run crontab -e, which will open an editor and an explanation of the file format. You can add entries to run something at a fixed interval, or on server reboot:

# Run at 03:21 every day:
21 3 * * * /home/<crsid>/

# Run at server startup:
@reboot /home/<crsid>/

If you want to setup cron jobs for a group or society account then you’ll need to run sudo -u SOCNAME crontab -e.

A tool like this is helpful for mastering syntax.


Unit files

You can use user unit files to manage services, which should be placed inside ~/.config/systemd/user/ (where ~ is your home directory, e.g. /home/<crsid> or /societies/<name>).

A sample personal account unit file, porridge.service, might look like the following:

Description=spqr2 Porridge app



ExecStart defines the command to be run. For group account services, ensure any paths to programs or directories are absolute and not via personal account paths (i.e. /societies/foosoc, not /home/spqr2/foosoc). You may also need to define WorkingDirectory as the directory path where your service is run from.

ConditionHost is required to ensure your service only runs on a single desired server, as your home directory and all your unit files will be present on all servers. Valid values are pip, sinkhole, doom or cavein. In order for services to run without you being logged in, your user account needs to have lingering enabled. This is a per-server state, and is controlled by the existence of unit files with a valid ConditionHost line – it may take up to 20 minutes for lingering to be enabled on creation of your first service.

By default, your services’ standard output and error streams are sent to systemd’s journal, however only the root user can access these. You should make your service write to their own log file rather than stdout or stderr.

Consult the systemd documentation for all available options. Note that some options are not available for user units (as opposed to system-wide units).


The above unit will give you a long-running service, one that starts your program at system startup. To schedule execution, drop the [Install] section from the unit file and instead create a corresponding timer file porridge.timer:

Description=spqr2 Porridge daily update



This will execute your program at midnight each day. The OnCalendar line accepts phrases like daily and weekly, or time strings of the form DayOfWeek Year-Month-Day Hour:Minute:Second (for example, Sat *-*-1..7 18:00:00 gives you 6pm on the first Saturday of each month).

Service control

To control your app, you can use the systemctl command over SSH. Basic commands are of the form systemctl --user <action> <unit>. Actions include start, stop and restart to run your service now, enable and disable to set whether the unit launches on system startup, and status to show information about it. The unit parameter is the name of the unit file itself, e.g. porridge.service or porridge.timer.

If you make a change to a unit file, you need to run systemctl --user daemon-reload on the affected server in order to pick up the change.

Due to an implementation detail, you must call systemctl as follows when interacting with a group account’s services (here using foosoc for the account name):

sudo -Hu foosoc XDG_RUNTIME_DIR=/run/user/$(id -u foosoc) systemctl --user ...

..and then run socsudo foosoc systemctl --user ....

If you receive an error like this setting up your group account’s first service:

Failed to connect to bus: No such file or directory

…then you may need to wait up to 20 minutes for lingering to be switched on – this will happen automatically once a service file is detected with a valid ConditionHost line.

Last modified on Monday Feb 28, 2022 by Richard Allitt