Understanding Quartz Cron Expressions

Understanding Quartz Cron Expressions

Every task scheduler needs a set of rules to determine when a job should be executed. In Quartz, a popular job scheduler library in Java, these rules are expressed using a special syntax called a cron expression. Cron expressions provide a concise and powerful way to describe recurring schedules, such as “run a job at 3:00 am every day of the week”.

The Basics of Cron Expressions

Cron expressions consist of six fields, separated by spaces, that define a job’s schedule. Each field represents a different aspect of the schedule, such as the minute, hour, and day of the month. Here’s an example of a cron expression that runs a job every five minutes:

0 0/5 * * * ?

Let’s break down each field of the expression:

  1. Minutes (0-59)
  2. Hours (0-23)
  3. Day of the month (1-31)
  4. Month (1-12 or JAN-DEC)
  5. Day of the week (1-7 or SUN-SAT)
  6. Year (optional)

In our example, the first field is set to 0, meaning the job will run at the exact start of each minute. The second field is 0/5, indicating that the job should run every five minutes, starting at minute zero. The remaining fields are set to *, which means “any value is allowed”.

Special Characters

In addition to the six standard fields, cron expressions can also include a few special characters that modify the schedule. Here are some examples:

  • * – matches any value
  • ? – used for fields that are not applicable (such as day of the week for a monthly job)
  • , – separates multiple values, such as MON,WED,FRI for a job that runs three days a week
  • - – specifies a range of values, such as 1-10 for the first ten days of the month
  • / – specifies an interval, such as 0/5 for every five minutes starting at zero

You can combine these special characters to create complex schedules. For example:

0 0/5 6-18 ? * MON-FRI

This expression will run a job every five minutes between 6:00 am and 6:00 pm, Monday through Friday.

Testing Cron Expressions

One important aspect of working with cron expressions is testing them to see if they match the expected schedule. Quartz provides a convenient utility method to generate the next several dates that match a given expression:

CronExpression cron = new CronExpression("0/5 * * * * ?");
Date now = new Date();
for (int i = 0; i < 10; i++) {
    now = cron.getNextValidTimeAfter(now);

This code creates a CronExpression object for our example expression, and then uses it to generate the next ten valid dates starting from the current time. Running this code should produce output like:

Fri Sep 24 12:50:00 EDT 2021
Fri Sep 24 12:55:00 EDT 2021
Fri Sep 24 13:00:00 EDT 2021
Fri Sep 24 13:05:00 EDT 2021
Fri Sep 24 13:10:00 EDT 2021
Fri Sep 24 13:15:00 EDT 2021
Fri Sep 24 13:20:00 EDT 2021
Fri Sep 24 13:25:00 EDT 2021
Fri Sep 24 13:30:00 EDT 2021
Fri Sep 24 13:35:00 EDT 2021


Quartz cron expressions are a powerful way to define the schedules of recurring jobs. By mastering the basics of the syntax and learning the special characters, you can create complex schedules that exactly meet your needs. And by testing your expressions with the CronExpression class, you can ensure that your jobs run on time and without errors.

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