Despite its simple chemical composition, cellulose exists in a number of crystalline and amorphous topologies. Its insolubility and heterogeneity makes native cellulose a recalcitrant substrate for enzymatic hydrolysis. Microorganisms meet this challenge with the aid of a multi-enzyme system. Aerobic bacteria produce numerous individual, extra-cellular enzymes with binding modules for different cellulose conformations. Specific enzymes act in synergy to elicit effective hydrolysis. In contrast, anaerobic bacteria possess a unique extracellular multi-enzyme complex, called cellulosome. Up to 11 different enzymes are aligned on the non-catalytic scaffolding protein and thus ensure a high local concentration, together with the correct ratio and order of the components. These multi-enzyme complexes attach both to the cell envelope and to the substrate, mediating the proximity of the cells to the cellulose. Binding to the scaffolding stimulates the activity of each individual component towards the crystalline substrate. The most complex and best investigated cellulosome is that of the thermophilic bacterium Clostridium thermocellum, but a scheme for the cellulosomes of the mesophilic clostridia and the ruminococci emerges. Many crucial details of cellulose hydrolysis are still to be uncovered. Yet, a mechanistic model for the action of enzyme complexes on the surface of insoluble substrates becomes apparent and the application of enzymatic hydrolysis of cellulosic biomass can now be addressed.