The primary function of bacterial recombination systems is the nonmutagenic repair of stalled or collapsed replication forks. The RecA protein plays a central role in these repair pathways, and its biochemistry must be considered in this context. RecA protein promotes DNA strand exchange, a reaction that contributes to fork regression and DNA end invasion steps. RecA protein activities, especially formation and disassembly of its filaments, affect many additional steps. So far, Escherichia coli RecA appears to be unique among its nearly ubiquitous family of homologous proteins in that it possesses a motorlike activity that can couple the branch movement in DNA strand exchange to ATP hydrolysis. RecA is also a multifunctional protein, serving in different biochemical roles for recombinational processes, SOS induction, and mutagenic lesion bypass. New biochemical and structural information highlights both the similarities and distinctions between RecA and its homologs. Increasingly, those differences can be rationalized in terms of biological function.