Category Archives: Tutorials


Introduction to cron

cron is a time-based job scheduler. This piece of software utility is used when you need to have a program run repeatedly at set time.

The daemon that runs in the background is named crond, while the file that contains the jobs themselves is named crontab.

You have three main directories:

  • /etc/crontab is the main system crontab file.
  • /var/spool/cron/ a directory for storing crontabs defined by users.
  • /etc/cron.d/ a directory for storing system crontabs.


Creating a crontab-file for your user is easy. Usage depends on what you need to do.


This command will allow you to edit the current user’s crontab. If a crontab doesn’t already exist, it will create a new one once you have saved your changes.

Edit another user’s crontab

You can also edit another user’s crontab, but only if you have the correct permissions in place to do so.


or list another user’s crontab.

These are the most common usages of the command crontab. For a couple of more options, see man crontab.


The syntax of a crontab-file looks like this:

Each asterisk represents a field. Starting from left to right, the fields are as follows:

  • Minute (0 – 59)
  • Hour (0 – 23)
  • Day of month (1 – 31)
  • Month (1 – 12)
  • Day of week (0 – 7, where 0 and 7 is Sunday)

On the fields Month and Day of the week, you can also use names instead of numeric values.


There are various operators that you can use with cron. Here’s the list:

Asterisk (*)

An asterisk (*) is used to indicate that every instance (i.e. every hour, every weekday, etc.) of the particular time period will be used. So if you use an asterisk in the field Hour, it means that it will run every hour.

Comma (,)

With this operator you can specify a list of values. If you use 1,5 in the field Day of week, this would mean Monday and Friday.

Dash (-)

While comma specifies a list of values, dash specifies a range. 1-5 in the field Day of week would mean Monday to Friday.

Forward slash (/)

Forward slash specifies a step value. If you’d like to execute a command every other hour, you could use 0-23/. You can also use steps after an asterisk, so if you want the command to run every two hours instead, use */2.



In this example the script runs at 14:45, the first day of the month, every month.


This line runs the command at 04:30 on the 1st and 15th of each month, plus every Friday.


The line above runs the command at 08:00, Monday to Friday.


..and this line would run the program every five minutes, every day.

As always, if you want to know more about cron, check out the command man cron.

Have fun!

Split and merge PDFs – part 2

A while ago I wrote a post named Split and merge PDFs with pdftk. Unfortunately, pdftk seems no longer to be maintained for Fedora 21. So we have to use another alternative – poppler-utils:

Install the package with:

..and you can use them to both split and merge files. poppler-utils contains a list of tools that you can use to manipulate PDFs:

  • pdfdetach — lists or extracts embedded files (attachments)
  • pdffonts — font analyzer
  • pdfimages — image extractor
  • pdfinfo — document information
  • pdfseparate — page extraction tool
  • pdftocairo — pdf to png/jpeg/pdf/ps/eps/svg converter using cairo
  • pdftohtml — pdf to html converter
  • pdftoppm — pdf to ppm/png/jpeg image converter
  • pdftops — pdf to postscript (ps) converter
  • pdftotext — text extraction
  • pdfunite — document merging tool

So, we move on to merging and splitting:



Check out man pdfseparate for more information about the tool.

Introduction to lsof

Today I’m going to introduce you to the exciting world of lsof.

As you will see, it’s a nifty little tool that has various uses, and it has so many switches that you need both a and a + to use all the options available! As the description of the command says in its man-page:

lsof – list open files

So, let’s get started.


List network connections

Continue reading

Making your BASH history more efficient

There are several ways to improve how you troubleshoot a system. One of the things I consider to be important is the BASH history. Here you can see what commands were executed. Though as default you can’t see when, or ignore certain things, like duplicate commands. Here’s a little guide to show you how.

Notice: To make these features a permanent solution, open up your /etc/profile, and add the lines to the bottom of the file. Save and close it. The next time you log in the functions should be working as you specified them!


A simple yet effective little trick is to change the format of the output the command history spits out. In my case it comes to good use when troubleshooting a system, wanting to find out if errors in the system log match up with commands executed at that time. To enable the feature in your current terminal, run:

So the output from history that was looking like this:

Now looks like this:



The variable HISTCONTROL can do a few things, like ignoring duplicates if they are in a row and erasing duplicates. The difference here is that by ignoring duplicates, it will remove duplicates only if they are in a row, while erasing duplicates, it will remove previous commands from the history file. Let’s give an example:


First run:

The output that looked like this:

Will now look like this:



erasedups means that if you executed the same command previously, that entry will be erased, substituted by the newly run command. Generally not recommended though. If you still wish to do so, it can be done by running the following line:

So a history that looked like this:

After the export, will now look like this when we run the command pwd again:



If you want full control over which commands will be stored by history and which will not be stored, set HISTCONTROL to ignorespace:

So out of these commands:

Only these will show:


ignoredups and ignorespace

To use both of these features, simply use:


The variable HISTIGNORE will help you tell history which commands to ignore, meaning that they shouldn’t be picked up by the BASH history. For instance, let’s say that I want the commands df and free to be ignored, including optional flags:


Setting how many lines of history to store is always a nice feature:

Thanks to pkhamre for suggesting to include HISTCONTROL and HISTIGNORE. 😉

Introduction to screen

screen is for many people an unknown program and tool, but those who do know it consider it to be an essential one. This is because of the functionality of the program, that can end up saving you a lot of work and time. You can run any number of console-based applications – editors, mail clients, browsers, in just a single terminal. Sometimes it’s useful to have a terminal for each console-based application you’re running, but sometimes not, obviously.

For my part, the main reason for me using screen is the ability to decouple the terminal emulator from the running programs. In other words, I can detach and reattach things as I please. To put it in simple terms; it’s a tool for session management. Let’s go ahead with an example.

You are logged into your remote server via SSH, working on some configuration file, when suddenly you lose connection to it. Almost done, having spent hours, you grab your laptop in anger and smack the closest unfortunate person next to you. Not only have you lost valuable work, but soon enough people with shields, guns and helmets will come after you. Imagine, with screen, it could have been avoided! Had you been editing the configuration file within a screen, and should you have lost connection, the editing would still be in an active screen session, allowing you to detach and reattach the screen to your terminal once you logged back in.

Let’s have a closer look at what we can do with screen.

Starting screen

Fire up a terminal and just type:

If installed, you probably won’t get a message about having entered a screen session, but I’m sure you have. Everything functions just like a normal shell, except for a few special characters. screen uses the command Ctrl-A as a signal to screen instead of the shell.

To see the help page for screen, press Ctrl-A, then press ?. In other words:

As you can see here, Ctrl is represented by the ^, A is A, and well, you get the rest.

To start a program directly into screen, just type screen . Let’s use top as an example.

Using screen

Fire it up:

top is started in the usual way, just inside a screen session. To detach the session and let it run in the background, use Ctrl-a d:

Once your session is detached you can list the available screen sessions by using:

The output you’ll see will be something along the lines of:

To reattach the screen session to your current terminal, you can use screen -dr . In this case it would be:

This brings up an interesting question though. How can you differentiate what multiple screen sessions are holding, if you can only read the process number? Easy – you give each screen session a name. For most people, a name is easier to remember than a number. So, we start a new screen, in which we’re going to open an IRC client called irssi. Let’s use -S:

Entering irssi, we detach the session with Ctrl-a d, and do a screen -ls to see what we’ve got now:

There you clearly see the name irc that we entered earlier, and the session holding top, which we started up even before being able to specify a name. Pretty handy, huh? This is particularly hand if you’re only going to have one application in the screen session. If more, it would probably be better to have a more descriptive session name of some sort.

Sharing a screen

If someone else, or you, has created a screen, and would like to share with someone else what you’re doing, then screen -x does the trick. Simply use:

..if irc is the name of the session, or the process ID. Once done, you should have enabled multi display mode. And if you find out that the screen you have taken part of doesn’t match up to the size of your own terminal, simply use: force it to match up to the dimensions.

Multiple applications in one session

Now I’ve introduced you to the basics of using screen. Let’s proceed with using screen with multiple applications. Detach and resume the screen session called irc with:

Once resumed, press Ctrl-a Ctrl-c (a ^c) to create a new screen session from within your current one. This will start up a new shell. Let’s start a new application – nano. Simply type:

And the application will start. Let’s give this internal screen session a name. Press Ctrl-a Shift-a (a A). Notice that a is different from A (capital A).

You will be asked:

Type editor and press enter.

Navigating within the screens

You can switch between the various applications by pressing Ctrl-a 0-9, so:

will go to the first application, irssi in this case. Other ways of navigating is by using

To list up all of the shells available on the screen, type:

You’ll get a list that looks something like:

Use your Up/Down arrows and press enter to select a shell to go to.

Clearing destroyed sessions

If you have a screen session up, and the machine it is on goes down, then the screen session is probably destroyed. You can see the available screens by typing screen -ls. To get rid of destroyed screens, type:

Splitting windows

Another interesting thing many people have asked about is how you can split a window in a screen session. A useful feature if you say would like to have two documents open, or you have to do some work while having a conversation on IRC. To split the window, type:

You will see that your screen is now split, and you have a new area on the bottom. To move to this area, type:

Now that you’re in the new area, there’s not much to do but to create another shell, so do it with:

From here you can start another application in the regular way, and give the internal shell a name of its own.

If you want to close the application in the bottom area, do it as normal, then to kill the area, press:

If you want to kill every area EXCEPT then one you’re currently in, you can use:

And that’s pretty much it when it comes to screen. For more information, check out the command:

Good luck!