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What is cron and why does it keep stopping? What is the effect when it does?

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See here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cron

It's probably not that it's stopping - but that it was never set up. CiviCRM won't do any tasks that need to happen automatically - including sending mails, updating membership statuses, etc. - until you set up cron. I don't think any of the CMSes that support CiviCRM work reliably without setting up cron, either.

I can't explain how to set up cron for CiviCRM without knowing a lot more about your environment - your CMS version and your hosting environment. If you're using CPanel or a similar control panel for your hosting, there will be a way to set up cron from within the control panel. There's some instructions on this page that are specific to CiviCRM.

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