I'm setting up a Cronjob that will backup a MySQL database I have in my server, but I don't want it to keep overwriting the same file over and over again. Instead, I want to have an array of backups to choose from, done automatically. For example:

## Cronjob, run May 21st, 2011:
mysqldump -u username -ppasword database > /path/to/file/21-03-2011.sql

## SAME Conjob, run May 28th, 2011:
mysqldump -u username -ppasword database > /path/to/file/28-03-2011.sql

And so on.

Is there any way that I can use the system date and/or time as some kind of variable in my Cronjob? If not, what are your suggestions to accomplish the same?

5 Answers 5


You could try something like this (as glenn jackmann notes below, you have to escape all % characters):

15 11 * * * touch "/tmp/$(date +\%d-\%m-\%Y).sql"

To see if your particular cron will run the command out of crontab as a script in and of itself, or if you need to write a script that figures out the date as a string, and then runs your mysqldump command.

Without escaping the %, "cron" on Redhat Enterprise Linux 5.0 (I think) kept giving me errors about not finding a matching ). This is because everything after an unescaped % is sent to standard input of the command.

I would also take the recommendation to use ISO8601 date format (yyyy-mm-dd, which is %F) to make the file names order by date when sorted lexically.

  • 25
    Have to be careful with date inside a cronfile: some crons (all?) treat % as the end of the command. (so the $() was not the problem). You have to escape all percent signs: ... touch "/tmp/$(date +\%Y-\%m-\%d)" (nicer to use a date format that sorts lexicographically) Mar 4, 2011 at 18:36
  • 2
    glenn jackman is correct: escaping the '%' characters in the crontab entry above works. A RHEL 5.0 crontab entry looks like this:50 11 * * * touch "/tmp/backup.$(date +\%Y-\%m-\%d).sql"
    – user732
    Mar 4, 2011 at 19:11
  • It's worth noting that using a subshell doesn't work in an environment variable. So, DATE=$( date -I ) and then using ${DATE} later on results in using a literal $( date -I ) in the job's command-line. Apr 7, 2016 at 18:17
  • 1
    It seems that escaping of % is necessary on OpenSuse 42 as well.
    – kgadek
    Apr 18, 2016 at 15:07

You should be able to use date.
Type info date or man date for details.

Something like the following might suit you (change the date format to your needs)

yourcommand > filepathandnameprefix$(date +"\%d-\%m-\%Y").extension
  • Again, be careful to escape all % chars inside cron. Mar 4, 2011 at 18:37
  • @glenn: Oops, sure. As to the lexicographic order, I just matched the OP's date format. I personally like the ISO format, like you.
    – asoundmove
    Mar 4, 2011 at 18:55

In order to have such a command running appropriately we will have to escape % and then it will run as expected.

See: http://www.ducea.com/2008/11/12/using-the-character-in-crontab-entries/


Here's the bash script I used:

mysqldump -u user1 -p DatabaseName | gzip > BackupFolder/backup`date +%F_%T`.sql.gz

Files look like:


Point the cron job at this to run nightly or whatever you prefer.

  • This works like a charm. Although, I don't quite understand what's happening in here. Does the backticks allow inclusion of the output of other programs or something? What about the formatting (like +%F and such)?
    – AeroCross
    Mar 6, 2011 at 19:25
  • 1
    Yep the backticks perform command substitution where the output is substituted for the command itself. Refer to Section 3.4.5 Here is a more comprehensive list of modifiers for data link
    – user5319
    Mar 11, 2011 at 20:28
  • Oh, wow, that's an amazing resource. It's great to always keep learning. Thank you very much for the link!
    – AeroCross
    Mar 11, 2011 at 21:23

Write a small wrapper script that utilizes the date command and calls your backup command.

NOW=`/bin/date +"%m%d%Y-%H%M%S"`
if [[ "$?" != "0" ]]; then
mysqldump -u username -ppassword database > /path/to/file/$NOW.sql
if [[ "$?" != "0" ]]; then
 echo "$0: backup failed with error code $?"

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.