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Cron jobs fall into a couple of main categories:
- things that have to be run periodically and don't care about site events - mainly garbage collection like session and cache.
- batch processing of things - search indexing of new nodes, purging of deleted stuff.
For the latter case, these are increasingly moving to the queue API, although it's not 100% consistent in core.
Issues like, and the one I can't find about indexing nodes for searching immediately, might be helped by a poor mans queue runner.
Drupal 7 has a poor mans cron. Currently the implementation is very basic - 1px gif/xhr requests were causing Drupal to be bootstrapped twice each request, and at one point there was a proposal to do ob_flush() during a shutdown function but this didn't take on, so we ended up just running cron inline instead, which is sucky but I argued for that in the end.
With the queue runner, it'd be more a case of setting $_SESSION['run_queues'] after a form submit, check that on the next page, if it's set, add the 1px gif or whatever to that page, which hits /queue_run with a token. This would only ever be triggered by form submissions so it'd not have the page caching issues of cron runs.
Things it could be useful for:
- field deletion
- mass deletes of other stuff
- operations that trigger menu rebuilds or similar expensive operations, that don't necessarily have to happen inline with the request - just very shortly afterwards.
- indexing nodes in the core search module immediately after posting instead of waiting for cron.