I have a system that uses the at command to schedule simple commands to be executed later. The command in question uses a lock so that multiple commands started at the same time execute sequentially ("mutex").

At one point I've logged into a machine and saw that something caused ~250 such jobs to be queued. It shouldn't be a serious issue and after waiting for the specified time I saw that commands started running, and it looked sequential - as every command run it was removed from the list returned by atq, at a rate of about 1 per second.

Eventually though, there were 2 jobs remaining on the queue - well after the time they were supposed to run. Here's the output from watch atq:

Every 2.0s: atq                                    Mon Jan  4 17:55:58 2016

242     Tue Jan  5 17:44:00 2016 a root
241     Tue Jan  5 17:44:00 2016 a root

Also, running $ sudo find /var/spool/cron/at*, I see this:


The atd daemon is running, and comparing its PID to other system daemons, it looks like it hasn't crashed and respawned.

I know I can atrm the jobs and just run the commands by hand, but I'm more interested in understanding why it happens and how to prevent it from happening next time. What could cause these jobs to get stuck?

The system in question is an Ubuntu 12.04 (precise) fully up to date.

  • 1
    Can you post the result of sudo ls -la /var/spool/at*? (Also, at will complain to the syslog if it thinks it's trying to execute a job twice, which might be why it's not executing these.) Jan 4, 2016 at 18:19
  • That directory does not exist. I've updated the question with what I think you wanted to know. The syslog has nothing to say about at
    – Guss
    Jan 5, 2016 at 8:32
  • 1
    Am I reading something wrong here or were those two jobs actually not due another day at the time you asked this question?
    – dessert
    Dec 15, 2017 at 12:29
  • Apparently, I missed something :-) Thanks for pointing that out.
    – Guss
    Dec 15, 2017 at 13:09

1 Answer 1


I am answering so that this no longer shows up in the list of unanswered questions, two years after the fact.

As indicated in the comments, OP missed that the jobs weren't due for another day.

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