Integration of retroviral DNA can serve as a paradigm for cellular functions that are affected by the packaging of DNA into chromatin. We have used a novel polymerase chain reaction-based assay to survey DNA and chromatin for the precise distribution of many integration sites. Integration into naked DNA targets is non-uniform, implying a nucleotide sequence bias. In chromatin, integration occurs preferentially at positions where the major groove is on the exposed face of the nucleosomal DNA helix, generating a 10 bp periodic spacing of preferred sites. Chromatin assembly enhances the reactivity of many sites, so that integration occurs most frequently at sites in nucleosomal, rather than nucleosome-free, regions of minichromosomes. In contrast, integration is prevented in a region occupied by a site-specific DNA-binding protein. Comparisons of integration events mediated by viral nucleoprotein complexes or by two different retroviral integrases show that the integration machinery also affects target site selection.