9. Service: Crontabber

Crontabber is a project that manages scheduled tasks. Unlike traditional UNIX crontab, all execution is done via the crontabber script and the configuration about frequency and exact time to run is part of the configuration files.

The configuration is done using configman and can be specified in a .ini file or in the process environment. An example looks like this:

# name: jobs
# doc: List of jobs and their frequency separated by `|`
# converter: configman.converters.class_list_converter

The default jobs specification lives in socorro/cron/crontabber_app.py as DEFAULT_JOBS.

Different server environments use different jobs specifications based on DEFAULT_JOBS.

9.1. What runs crontabber?

Every 5 minutes, crontabber runs, updates crontabber jobs bookkeeping, checks which jobs need to run, and runs those jobs.

9.2. Crontabber theory

Crontabber runs a set of jobs.

A job specification includes the class to run, a frequency, and optionally a specific time to run at. In this way, we can specify jobs to run weekly, daily, hourly, daily at a specific time, and so on.

Crontabber maintains some bookkeeping for each job including when the job was first run, most recently run, the time of the last success, the time of the last failure, and the next run. If the job failed, it logs some error information.

Jobs can have zero or more dependencies on other jobs. Crontabber makes sure that dependencies are filled before running a job. For example, if FooCronApp depends on BarCronApp it just won’t run if BarCronApp last resulted in an error or simply hasn’t been run the last time it should.

Crontabber has several command line arguments that let you override the job spec to run things manually. For example, you can override dependencies for a job with the --force parameter like this:

socorro-cmd crontabber --job=BarCronApp --force

Dependencies inside the cron apps are defined by settings a class attribute on the cron app. The attribute is called depends_on and its value can be a string, a tuple or a list. In this example, since BarCronApp depends on FooCronApp it’s class would look something like this:

from crontabber.base import BaseCronApp

class BarCronApp(BaseCronApp):
    app_name = 'BarCronApp'
    app_description = 'Does some bar things'
    depends_on = ('FooCronApp',)

    def run(self):

Raising an error inside a cron app will not stop the other jobs from running other than the those that depend on it.

9.3. App names and class names

Every cron app in crontabber must have a class attribute called app_name. This value must be unique. If you like, it can be the same as the class it’s in. When you list jobs you list the full path to the class but it’s the app_name within the found class that gets remembered.

If you change the app_name all previously know information about it being run is lost. If you change the name and path of the class, the only other thing you need to change is the configuration that refers to it.

Best practice recommendation is this:

  • Name the class like a typical Python class, i.e. capitalize and optionally camel case the rest. For example: FooCronApp
  • Optional but good practice is to keep the suffix CronApp to the class name.
  • Make the app_name value lower case and replace spaces with -.

9.4. Automatic backfilling

crontabber supports automatic backfilling for cron apps that need a date (it’s a python datetime.datetime instance) parameter which, if all is well, defaults to the date right now.

To use backfilling your cron app needs to subclass another class. Basic example:

from socorro.cron.base import BaseBackfillCronApp

class ThumbnailMoverCronApp(BaseBackfillCronApp):
    app_name = 'thumbnail-mover'
    app_version = 1.0
    app_description = 'moves thumbnails into /dev/null'

    def run(self, date):
        dir_ = '/some/path/' + date.strftime('%Y%m%d-%H%M%S')

There’s also a specific subclass for use with Postgres that uses backfill:

from socorro.cron.base import PostgresBackfillCronApp

class ThumbnailUpdaterCronApp(PostgresBackfillCronApp):
    app_name = 'thumbnail-updater'
    app_version = 1.0
    app_description = 'marks thumbnails as moved'

    def run(self, connection, date):
        sql = """UPDATE thumbnails
        SET removed=true
        WHERE upload_date=%s
        cursor = connection.cursor()
        cursor.execute(sql, date)

These cron apps are automatically backfilled because whenever they wake up to run, they compare when it was last run with when it was last successful. By also knowing the frequency it’s easy to work out how many times it’s “behind”. So, for example, if a job has a frequency of 1 day; today is Friday and the last successful run was Monday four days ago. That means, it needs to re-run the run(connection, date) method four times. One for Tuesday, one for Wednesday, one for Thursday and one for today Friday. If, it fails still the same thing will be repeated and re-tried the next day but with one more date to re-run.

When backfilling across, say, three failed attempts. If the first of those three fail, the last_success date is moved forward accordingly.

9.5. Troubleshooting

9.5.1. Examining the last error

All errors that happen are reported to the standard python logging module. Also, the latest error (type, value and traceback) is stored in the JSON database too. If any of your cron apps have an error you can see it with:

socorro-cmd crontabber --list-jobs

Here’s a sample output:

=== JOB ========================================================================
Class:       socorro.cron.jobs.foo.FooCronApp
App name:    foo
Frequency:   12h
Last run:    2012-04-05 14:49:56  (1 minute ago)
Next run:    2012-04-06 02:49:56  (in 11 hours, 58 minutes)

=== JOB ========================================================================
Class:       socorro.cron.jobs.bar.BarCronApp
App name:    bar
Frequency:   1d
Last run:    2012-04-05 14:49:56  (1 minute ago)
Next run:    2012-04-06 14:49:56  (in 23 hours, 58 minutes)
Error!!      (1 times)
  File "socorro/cron/crontabber_app.py", line 316, in run_one
  File "socorro/cron/crontabber_app.py", line 369, in _run_job
  File "/Use[snip]orro/socorro/cron/crontabber_app.py", line 47, in main
  File "/Use[snip]orro/socorro/cron/jobs/bar.py", line 10, in run
    raise NameError('doesnotexist')

It will only keep the latest error but it will include an error count that tells you how many times it has tried and failed. The error count increments every time any error happens and is reset once no error happens. So, only the latest error is kept and to find out about past error you have to inspect the log files.


If a cron app that is configured to run every 2 days runs into an error, it will try to run again in 2 days.

9.5.2. Running a job manually

Suppose you inspect the error and write a fix. If you’re impatient and don’t want to wait till it’s time to run again, you can start it again like this:

socorro-cmd crontabber --job=my-app-name

This will attempt it again and no matter if it works or errors it will pick up the frequency from the configuration and update what time it will run next.

9.5.3. Resetting a job

If you want to pretend that a job has never run before you can use the --reset switch. It expects the name of the app. Like this:

socorro-cmd crontabber --reset=my-app-name

That’s going to wipe that job out of the state database rendering basically as if it’s never run before. That can make this tool useful for bootstrapping new apps that don’t work on the first run or you know what you’re doing and you just want it to start afresh.

9.5.4. Figuring out configuration parameters

Best way to figure out the keys for configuration parameters is by running crontabber and telling it to list the jobs. It’ll spit out all the configuration keys at startup.

9.6. Scheduling jobs

The format for configuring jobs looks like this:


or like this:


Hopefully the format is self-explanatory. The first number is required and it must be a number followed by “y” (years), “d” (days), “h” (hours), or “m” (minutes).

For jobs that have a frequency longer than 24 hours you can specify exactly when it should run. This format has to be in the 24-hour format of HH:MM.

If you’re ever uncertain that your recent changes to the configuration file is correct or not, instead of waiting around you can check it with:

socorro-cmd crontabber --configtest

which will do nothing if all is OK.

9.7. Timezone and UTC

All dates and times are in UTC. All Python datetime.datetime instances as non-native meaning they have a tzinfo value which is set to UTC.

This means that if you’re an IT or ops person configuring a job to run at 01:00 it’s actually at 7pm pacific time.

9.8. Writing cron apps (aka. jobs)

First off, if you can implement whatever you’re implementing as something other than a crontabber job, do that. If not, proceed.

Code for crontabber jobs goes in socorro/cron/jobs/.

Make sure to write tests for them if you can.

9.9. Testing crontabber jobs manually

We have unit tests for crontabber jobs (located in: socorro/cron/jobs), but sometimes it is helpful to test these jobs locally before deploying changes.

For “backfill-based” jobs, you will need to reset them to run them immediately rather than waiting for the next available time period for running them.


$ socorro-cmd crontabber --reset-job=ftpscraper

Then you can run them:

$ socorro-cmd crontabber --job=ftpscraper