Running on time with Spring’s scheduled tasks

Do you need to run a process everyday at the exact same time like an alarm? Then Spring’s scheduled tasks are for you. Allowing you to annotate a method with @Scheduled causing it to run at the specific time or interval that is denoted inside it. In this post we will look at setting up a project that can use scheduled tasks as well as how to use the different methods for defining when they execute.

I will be using Spring Boot for this post making the dependencies nice and simple due to scheduling being available to the spring-boot-starter dependency which will be included in pretty much every Spring Boot project in some way. This allows you to use any of the other starter dependencies as they will pull in spring-boot-starter and all its relationships. If you want to include the exact dependency itself, use spring-context.

You could use spring-boot-starter.

Or use spring-context directly.

Creating a scheduled task is pretty straight forward. Add the @Scheduled annotation to any method that you wish to run automatically and include @EnableScheduling in a configuration file.

So for example you could have something like the below.

There is quite a lot of code here that has no importance to running a scheduled task. As I said a minute ago we need to use @Scheduled on a method and it will start running automatically. So in the above example the create method will start running every 1000ms (1 second) as denoted by the fixedRate property of the annotation. If we wanted to change how often it ran we could increase or decrease the fixedRate time or we could consider using the different scheduling methods available to us.

So you probably want to know what these other ways are right? Well here they are (I will include fixedRate here as well).

  • fixedRate executes the method with a fixed period of milliseconds between invocations.
  • fixedRateString the same as fixedRate but with a string value instead.
  • fixedDelay executes the method with a fixed period of milliseconds between the end of one invocation and the start of the next.
  • fixedDelayString the same as fixedDelay but with a string value instead.
  • cron uses cron-like expressions to determine when to execute the method (we will look at this more in depth later).

There are a few other utility properties available to the @Scheduled annotation.

  • zone Indicates the time zone that the cron expression will be resolved for, if no time zone is included it will use the server’s default time zone. So if you needed it to run for a specific time zone, say Hong Kong, you could use zone = "GMT+8:00".
  • initialDelay The number of milliseconds to delay the first execution of a scheduled task, requires one of the fixed rate or fixed delay properties to be used.
  • initialDelayString The same as initialDelay but with a string value instead.

A few examples of using fixed rates and delays can be found below.

@Scheduled(fixedRate = 1000)

Same as earlier, runs every 1 second.

@Scheduled(fixedRateString = "1000")

Same as above.

@Scheduled(fixedDelay = 1000)

Runs 1 second after the previous invocation finished.

@Scheduled(fixedRate = 1000, initialDelay = 5000)

Runs every second but waits 5 seconds before it executes for the first time.

Now onto looking at the cron property which gives much more control over the scheduling of a task, letting us define the seconds, minutes and hours the task runs at but can go even further and specify even the years that a task will run in.

Below is a breakdown of the components that build a cron expression. The expressions that Spring allows is a subset of all possible cron expressions, for example it does not include the year field and cannot use all of the special characters.

  • Seconds can have values 0-59 or the special characters , - * / .
  • Minutes can have values 0-59 or the special characters , - * / .
  • Hours can have values 0-23 or the special characters , - * / .
  • Day of month can have values 1-31 or the special characters , - * ? / .
  • Month can have values 1-12, JAN-DEC or the special characters , - * / .
  • Day of week can have values 1-7, SUN-SAT or the special characters , - * ? / .

Just for some extra clarity I have combined the breakdown into an expression consisting of the field labels.

@Scheduled(cron = "[Seconds] [Minutes] [Hours] [Day of month] [Month] [Day of week]")

Please do not include the braces in your expressions (I used them to make the expression clearer).

Before we can on, we need to go through what the special characters mean.

  • * represents all values, so if used in the second field it means every second or used in the day field meaning run every day.
  • ? represents no specific value and can be used in either the day of month or day of week field where using one invalidates the other. If we specify to trigger on the 15th day of a month then a ? will be used in the Day of week field.
  • - represents a inclusive range of values, for example 1-3 in the hours field means the hours 1, 2 and 3.
  • , represents additional values, for example MON,WED,SUN in the day of week field means on Monday, Wednesday and Sunday.
  • / represents increments, for example 0/15 in the seconds field triggers every 15 seconds starting from 0 (0, 15, 30 and 45).

A helpful resource with slightly longer explanations can be found here, which helped me write this post.

Lets go through a few examples.

@Scheduled(cron = "0 0 12 * * ?")

Fires at 12pm everyday.

@Scheduled(cron = "0 15 10 ? * MON-THU")

Fire at 10:15am every Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday.

@Scheduled(cron = "0/20 * * * * ?")

Fires every 20 seconds.

For some more examples see the link I mentioned earlier, shown again here. Luckily, if you get stuck when writing a simple cron expression you should be able to google for the scenario that you need as someone has probably asked the same question on Stack Overflow already.

To tie some of the above into a little code example see the code below.

Here we have a class that is querying Cassandra every 20 seconds for the average value of events in the same time period. Again most of the code here is noise from the @Scheduled annotation but it can be helpful to see it in the wild. Furthermore if you have been observant, for this use-case of running every 20 seconds, using the fixedRate and possibly the fixedDelay properties instead of cron would be suitable here as we are running the task so frequently.

@Scheduled(fixedRate = 20000)

Is the fixedRate equivalent of the cron expression used above.

The final requirement which I alluded to earlier is to add the @EnableScheduling annotation to a configuration class.

Being this is a small Spring Boot application I have attached the @EnableScheduling annotation to the main @SpringBootApplication class.

In conclusion, we can schedule tasks to trigger using the @Scheduled annotation along with either a millisecond rate between executions or a cron expression for finer timings that cannot be expressed with the former. For tasks that need to run very often, using the fixedRate or fixedDelay properties will suffice but once the time between executions becomes larger it will become harder to quickly determine the defined time. When this occurs the cron property should be used for better clarity of the scheduled timings.

The little amount of code used in this post can be found on my GitHub.

If you found this post helpful and wish to keep up to date with my new tutorials as I write them, follow me on Twitter at @LankyDanDev.

  1. > Hours can have values 0-59 or the special characters , – * / .

    That are long days… 😉

    But thanks for the tutorial!

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    1. Whoops!! I’ll correct that.

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  2. > @Scheduled(cron = “0 15 10 * * ? 2005”)

    P.S: Spring Boots Scheduler doesn’t correspond to standard cron format – it has just 6 fields, not 7.

    https://stackoverflow.com/questions/30887822/spring-cron-vs-normal-cron

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    1. Oh no! The post is falling to pieces… I’ll look into that as well, year isn’t exactly very helpful anyway. I cannot even think of a situation where you would even use it.

      Thanks

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      1. Thanks again for the help marfis. I found quite a few errors so now they should all be fixed!!

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