Recombination initiates at double-stranded DNA breaks and at single-stranded DNA gaps. These DNA strand discontinuities can arise from DNA-damaging agents and from normal DNA replication when the DNA polymerase encounters an imperfection in the DNA template or another protein. The machinery of homologous recombination acts at these breaks and gaps to promote the events that result in gene recombination, as well as the reattachment of detached replication arms and the resumption of DNA replication. In Escherichia coli, these events require collaboration (RecA, RecBCD, RecFOR, RecQ, RuvABC and SSB proteins) and DNA replication (PriABC proteins and the DNA polymerases). The initial steps common to these recombination and recombination-dependent replication processes are reviewed.