The One-Time Task Scheduling Guide To Master the “at” Command

The One-Time Task Scheduling Guide To Master the “at” Command

When it comes to scheduling tasks in a Linux environment, system administrators and developers often use the cron command for recurring tasks. However, there is another powerful tool for scheduling one-time jobs, known as the at command. This article will provide an in-depth exploration of the at command, including its syntax, usage examples, and best practices.

Understanding the at Command

The at command is a versatile utility that allows users to schedule a command or script to be executed at a specified time in the future. It is particularly useful for running one-time jobs, such as maintenance tasks, backups, or system updates, without requiring manual intervention. The at command reads the commands to be executed from standard input or from a file and schedules them accordingly.

Installing the at Command

Most Linux distributions come with the at command pre-installed. However, if it is not present on your system, you can install it using the package manager for your distribution. For Debian-based distributions, use the following command:

sudo apt-get install at

For Red Hat-based distributions, use this command:

sudo yum install at

Syntax and Options

The basic syntax of the at command is as follows:


The available options for the at command include:

  • -f: Specifies a file containing the commands to be executed.
  • -t: Specifies the time at which to run the commands using a Unix timestamp.
  • -m: Sends an email to the user when the job has completed.
  • -q: Specifies a queue in which to place the job.

Scheduling a One-Time Job

To schedule a one-time job, simply provide the desired time for execution. The at command supports various time formats, such as:

  • Relative time: "now + 1 hour" or "now + 30 minutes"
  • Absolute time: "2:30 PM" or "15:30"
  • Date and time: "10:00 AM tomorrow" or "2023-04-01 18:00"

For example, to schedule a one-time job to create a file containing "Hello, World!" in the /tmp directory after one hour, use the following command:

echo "echo 'Hello, World!' > /tmp/hello_world.txt" | at now + 1 hour

Alternatively, you can schedule the command as below:

at now + 1 hour echo 'Hello, World!' > /tmp/hello_world.txt

Press CTRL + D to exit from the at command terminal.

Listing and Managing Scheduled Jobs

To list all scheduled jobs for the current user, use the "atq" command:


To remove a scheduled job, use the "atrm" command followed by the job ID:


Best Practices

When using the at command, keep the following best practices in mind:

  • Always verify that the at command is installed and enabled on your system.
  • Use descriptive comments in your at jobs to make it easier to understand their purpose.
  • Test your commands or scripts before scheduling them with the at command.
  • Remember that the at command is designed for one-time jobs. Use the cron command for recurring tasks.

at Command Examples

Here are some examples of how to use the at command:

  1. Schedule a task at 10:00 AM: at 10:00 AM
  2. Schedule a task at 10:00 AM on the coming 25th of July: at 10:00 AM July 25
  3. Schedule a task at 10:00 AM on the 22nd of June 2023: at 10:00 AM 6/22/2023
  4. Schedule a task at 10:00 AM on the same date as next month: at 10:00 AM next month
  5. Schedule a task at 10:00 AM tomorrow: at 10:00 AM tomorrow
  6. Schedule a task to execute just after 1 hour: at now + 1 hour
  7. Schedule a task to execute just after 30 minutes: at now + 30 minutes
  8. Schedule tasks to execute just after 1 and 2 weeks: at now + 1 week at now + 2 weeks
  9. Schedule tasks to execute just after 1 and 2 years: at now + 1 year at now + 2 years
  10. Schedule tasks to execute at midnight (12:00 AM): at midnight


The at command is an essential tool for Linux users who need to schedule one-time jobs. By understanding its syntax and usage, you can effectively automate tasks and improve the efficiency of your workflow. Remember to use best practices when scheduling jobs to ensure that your system runs smoothly and your tasks are completed on time. Whether you're scheduling maintenance tasks, backups, or system updates, the at command offers a straightforward and powerful solution for one-time job scheduling.

Additional Tips and Tricks

While the at command is already a powerful tool on its own, there are a few additional tips and tricks that can enhance your experience when scheduling one-time tasks:

  1. Scheduling Multiple Commands: If you need to schedule multiple commands to be executed sequentially in a single job, you can do so by entering each command on a separate line in the at command terminal. After entering all the commands, press CTRL + D to exit and save the job.
        at now + 10 minutes
        echo 'First command' > /tmp/output.txt
        echo 'Second command' >> /tmp/output.txt
        echo 'Third command' >> /tmp/output.txt
  2. Using Scripts: Instead of entering multiple commands in the at command terminal, you can create a shell script containing all the commands you want to run and use the -f option to specify the script file. Make sure the script is executable.
        # Create a script called
        echo '#!/bin/bash' >
        echo 'echo "Task 1" > /tmp/script_output.txt' >>
        echo 'echo "Task 2" >> /tmp/script_output.txt' >>
        chmod +x
        # Schedule the script to run in 15 minutes
         at -f now + 15 minutes
  3. Receiving Email Notifications: Use the -m option if you want to receive an email notification when the job is completed. This can be useful for monitoring the status of your scheduled tasks.
    	at -m now + 5 minutes
        echo'Sending email notification' > /tmp/email.txt
  4. Specifying Queues: The at command allows you to specify a queue in which to place the job using the -q option, followed by a single letter. Jobs in different queues are independent of each other.
        at -q a now + 1 hour
        echo'Task in queue A' > /tmp/queue_A.txt
        at -q b now + 2 hours
        echo'Task in queue B' > /tmp/queue_B.txt

Remember, the at command is a versatile and powerful tool, but it's not the only option for scheduling tasks in Linux. For recurring tasks or more complex scheduling requirements, consider using the cron system, which provides additional flexibility and control over task scheduling. With these tips and tricks, you'll be well-equipped to make the most out of the at command, automate your workflow, and increase productivity as a Linux system administrator or developer. Happy scheduling!

George Whittaker is the editor of Linux Journal, and also a regular contributor. George has been writing about technology for two decades, and has been a Linux user for over 15 years. In his free time he enjoys programming, reading, and gaming.

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