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Ruby on Rails Cron Jobs Using Whenever

brayvasq profile image Brayan Vasquez ・4 min read

Hi Everyone!. In this post, I want to share with you a little guide that will show you how to use cron jobs in a Ruby on Rails application.

Requirements

  • Ruby (I use ruby 2.7.1p83)
  • Ruby on Rails (I use Rails 6.0.3.4)

Note: I advise you to install ruby using a version manager like rvm or rbenv. Also, I recommend the GoRails Tutorial that will guide you throughout the process.

What's a Cron Job?

A cron job is a process that is scheduled to run at a certain time (every minute, day, week, or month). On Unix systems, we can run and manage these types of processes using the cron tool. The info of the process that will run the cron tool is stored in a file called crontab.

Examples of the use of cron jobs are the following:

  • Generate reports. e.g, a report of daily payments from an e-commerce application.
  • Send reminders to users. e.g, send offer reminders from an ecommerce application.
  • Modify the status of the records. e.g, canceling payments that exceed a time limit to pay.

We can see our cron jobs using the following command

crontab -l
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To delete user jobs we can use the following command

crontab -r
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And to edit our crontab file, we can use the following command

crontab -e
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The structure of a cron job is the following

.--------------- minute (0-59) 
|  .------------ hour (0-23)
|  |  .--------- day of month (1-31)
|  |  |  .------ month (1-12)
|  |  |  |  .--- day of week (0-6) (sunday=0 or 7)  
|  |  |  |  |
*  *  *  *  *  command to execute
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An example of how to define a cron job to execute every 5 minutes

*/5 * * * *  /home/user/test.rb
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Setup the project

Now that we know what's a cron job, we can start to write code. First, we are going to create our rails project.

rails new whenever_example
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Add whenever gem

Whenever is a gem that helps us to define cron jobs in a readable way. So, we will add this gem to our Gemfile.

# Gemfile

# Cron jobs
gem 'whenever', require: false
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Install our dependencies

bundle install
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Create a rake task

We will use a rake task to run in our cron job. First, create a .rake file.

# Create the rake task
touch lib/tasks/whenever_test.rake
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On our task, we will simply print a message.

# lib/tasks/whenever_test.rake
desc 'Whenever rake task test'
task whenever_call: :environment do
  Rails.logger.info "Whenever task"
end
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To see the rake tasks of our Rails application, we can use the following command.

# See all tasks
bundle exec rake --tasks

# See our task
bundle exec rake --tasks | grep whenever_call
# rake whenever_call                      # Whenever rake task test
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We can execute our task to check that it works.

bundle exec rake whenever_call
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In our logs file we should see the message we define.

tail log/development.log
# Whenever task
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Define our cron job

First, we have to setup the whenever gem.

bundle exec wheneverize .
# [add] writing `./config/schedule.rb'
# [done] wheneverized!
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This will create the config/schedule.rb where we will define our cron jobs. We will create a simple task that will be executed every 2 minutes.

# config/schedule.rb
# ....
every 2.minute do
  rake 'whenever_call'
end
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Now, we have to update our crontab file.

whenever --update-crontab
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If we list our cron jobs in the crontab file, we will see something like the following.

# crontab file
0,2,4,6,8,10,12,14,16,18,20,22,24,26,28,30,32,34,36,38,40,42,44,46,48,50,52,54,56,58 * * * * /bin/bash -l -c 'cd OUR_PROJECT_PATH && RAILS_ENV=production bundle exec rake whenever_call --silent'
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If we see in our production logs, we can see the following.

# log/production.log
I, [2020-11-15T20:50:02.590009 #53971]  INFO -- : Whenever task
I, [2020-11-15T20:52:02.914487 #54387]  INFO -- : Whenever task
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As, you can see the logs have 2 minutes of difference.

However, you can see that the task is logging into our production.log. If you want to run the cron jobs in development environment, we can use the following.

whenever --update-crontab --set environment=development
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Of course, we could specify more when the task runs. Here are some examples:

Scheduling a task every day at 3:00am

# config/schedule.rb
# ....
every 1.day, at: '3:00 am' do
  rake 'whenever_call'
end
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# crontab file
0 3 * * * /bin/bash -l -c 'cd OUR_PROJECT_PATH && RAILS_ENV=production bundle exec rake whenever_call --silent'
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Scheduling a task every 2 days at 3:00am and 5:30pm

# config/schedule.rb
# ....
every 2.day, at: ['3:00 am', '5:30 pm'] do
  rake 'whenever_call'
end 
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# crontab file
0 3 1,3,5,7,9,11,13,15,17,19,21,23,25,27,29,31 * * /bin/bash -l -c 'cd OUR_PROJECT_PATH && RAILS_ENV=production bundle exec rake whenever_call --silent'

30 17 1,3,5,7,9,11,13,15,17,19,21,23,25,27,29,31 * * /bin/bash -l -c 'cd OUR_PROJECT_PATH && RAILS_ENV=production bundle exec rake whenever_call --silent'
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Scheduling a task on monday and sunday at 6:00pm

# config/schedule.rb
# ....
every [:monday, :sunday], at: '6:00 PM' do
  rake 'whenever_call'
end
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# crontab file
0 18 * * 1,0 /bin/bash -l -c 'cd OUR_PROJECT_PATH && RAILS_ENV=development bundle exec rake whenever_call --silent'
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If you want to clear the contents of the crontab file, you can also use the following command.

# Clear crontab
whenever -c
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Final Words

Thanks for reading this post and you can find more info about whenever in its official github repo.

If you are also interested in know how to create scheduled jobs in Elixir, I recommend you this amazing post 3 ways to schedule tasks in Elixir I have learned in 3 years working with it.

Discussion

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danielltw profile image
Daniel Leong πŸ‡ΈπŸ‡¬

In a distributed world, whenever is not going to work very well.

You might want to explore further with your background job queue system and ways to schedule jobs with it. Like for Sidekiq, there is Sidekiq Scheduler.

Have fun exploring the work of scheduled tasks/jobs.

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brayvasq profile image
Brayan Vasquez Author

Hi Daniel!.

For a monolithic Rails application, whenever seems to work fine.

I didn't know about Sidekiq-Scheduler, it looks cool. Definitely, I will give it a look.

Thank you so much for your recommendations!

PS: It would be very helpful if you could create a post talking about distributed systems and scheduled tasks/jobs.

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danielltw profile image
Daniel Leong πŸ‡ΈπŸ‡¬

Even with a monolithic application, it will be worth while to package your whole stack into docker containers. Service Oriented Architecture.

App as a single container, database as another container and redis/memcache as another container. You could package this whole stack with a single docker-compose file and your app on a docker image repository. This allows you to move and deploy your full stack with ease, on any machine you are working with.