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I was wondering if we add a job in the crontab e.g. to run every 5 mins and the job does not actually manage to finish in 5 mins, does the cron daemon know that the previous instance is already running and skips the next run? Or do I have to somehow build that logic to the process? How?

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No: there is no such mechanism built in cron. You had to do it yourself. Usually lock are a good place to start (or the presence of a pid file for a naive and simplistic approach). – Ouki Apr 7 '14 at 21:39
You have to wrap your job into an shell script which does the locking. See Correct locking in shell scripts? for possible options. – jofel Apr 7 '14 at 21:42
@Ouki: You should post that as an answer. – Keith Thompson Apr 7 '14 at 22:20
@Keith: being distracted from work ... but not enough to build a proper answer ;) – Ouki Apr 7 '14 at 23:25

No, the contract with cron is that it starts each job at the specified time. Cron doesn't keep track of which successive jobs are “the same job”.

If you want to avoid starting a job when the previous one isn't finished, you need to put something at the beginning of your job that makes it exit early. For example, you can arrange for your job to hold a lock file, and exit if it can't open the lock file.

* * * * flock -n /var/lock/myjob.lock /path/to/script
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Is this flock -n /var/lock/myjob.lock part of a standard cron entry? – Jim Apr 8 '14 at 17:59
@Jim No, it's something you can use to ensure that only one job runs at a time. – Gilles Apr 8 '14 at 19:05

No, it does not.

What you can do is set the cron to run a script which contains your job and set it to run for a specific amount of time. Right before each time interval, terminate/kill that job from within that script and have cron restart it again at the moment of the next time interval.

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How can I do what you describe? – Jim Apr 10 '14 at 20:43

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