Heparan sulfate proteoglycans are complex molecules composed of a core protein with covalently attached glycosaminoglycan chains. While the protein part determines localization of the proteoglycan on the cell surfaces or in the extracellular matrix, the glycosaminoglycan component, heparan sulfate, mediates interactions with a variety of extracellular ligands such as growth factors and adhesion molecules. Through these interactions, heparan sulfate proteoglycans participate in many events during cell adhesion, migration, proliferation and differentiation. We are determining the multitude of proteoglycan functions, as their intricate roles in many pathways are revealed. They act as coreceptors for growth factors, participate in signalling during cell adhesion, modulate the activity of a broad range of molecules, and partake in many developmental and pathological processes, including tumorigenesis and wound repair. This review concentrates on biological roles of cell surface heparan sulfate proteoglycans, namely syndecans and glypicans, and outlines the progress achieved during the last decade in unraveling the molecular interactions behind proteoglycan functions.