I'm trying to add a crontab entry to my root user's crontab. I'm able to add an entry without issue to my regular user's crontab, but when I su to root user and try adding a crontab entry it does not save the entry.

The process I'm going through is:

$sudo su
$crontab -e
# write out my crontab entry and then :wq to write and quit vi
$crontab -l
crontab: no crontab for root

I've also tried exiting vi using wq! and it still will not save the entry.

The entry that I'm entering is:

* * * * * /sayhi.sh

sayhi.sh is a simple shell script I'm using to try to verify that the cron job is running.

Is there something different I need to do if I'm trying to create a crontab entry for root? I've been looking around and I haven't seen anything about crontab that's particular to the root user.

Any help would be appreciated!


2 Answers 2


Your commands should actually work, however it's not as I would do it.

Instead try :-

sudo crontab -e -u root

then to list :-

sudo crontab -l -u root

As a general rule I go to a great deal of trouble to never run a root shell. When I do I use sudo -s rather than sudo su.

When you exit from vi you should see two lines :-

crontab: no crontab for root - using an empty one
crontab: installing new crontab

If you don't get those two lines you have serious troubles. If you do and then the list command doesn't show anything I would suspect permission troubles.

I also wouldn't use your example line as you are asking the system to run "sayhi.sh" once a minute all day, every day. I also wonder about the path "/sayhi.sh" - do you really have the script right up the top of your boot drive? That's not a good idea either or do you perhaps mean "~/sayhi.sh" which in this case would be in roots home directory (usually /var/root) or do you mean your home directory. In crontab files it's best to explicitly code the entire path, regardless.

You do also realise that tany output of the cron job will not go to any terminal but will instead be emailed to root (by default).

If you want to check that cron is running tasks a simple

*/5 * * * *   echo "CRON" > /Users/myname/.cronout

will do that (the first field runs the task a much more reasonable every 5 minutes).

The crontabs themselves are stored in /usr/lib/cron/tabs. /usr/lib/cron is actually a link to /var/at and if you go there you will find the tabs directory and also the cron.deny file. Check that nobody has added root to that and if you still have no joy then you might try :

echo > /var/at/tabs/root

which should create an empty file that you might then be able to edit.

  • does ~ work in crontab - I would always give the full path
    – mmmmmm
    Feb 10, 2014 at 2:03
  • @Mark - yes it does. It goes to the home of the crontab owner, but like you I always fully encode paths in crontabs (and shell scripts and bash functions). Feb 10, 2014 at 2:09
  • @TonyWilliams, the 'sayhi.sh' at the root level and the every minute is purely for testing purposes. The actual shell script I want to run is in my home folder and will eventually run at a monthly interval. I'll give your suggestions a try. Thanks! Feb 10, 2014 at 2:57
  • Hmm, so I've gone through and set up my root's crontab job the way you suggest (thanks for pointing out those sudo flags btw), though when I write and quit the root crontab it still gives me the message crontab: no crontab for root and does not save the job entry. You mentioned that it may be a permissions issue, do you have a suggestion on which file's permissions I should check? The idea of the root user not having permissions to a particular file seems odd, doesn't it? Feb 10, 2014 at 14:40
  • I would boot off another disk and run "Fix permissions" in Disk Utility. Feb 11, 2014 at 1:59

I was having the same problem. Here is what worked for me (and by "worked" I mean I was able to get a cron job to run as root):

sudo bash -login            # su always tries to force me to change my password >:[
vi /usr/lib/cron/tabs/root  # Just edit it directly

chmod 600 /usr/lib/cron/tabs/root

The jobs you put there will run, but crontab -e still doesn't work, even after creating the crontab.

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