Porins and specific channels both produce water-filled pores that allow the transmembrane diffusion of small solutes, but the latter contain specific ligand-binding sites within the channels. Recent structural studies show that many or most of these proteins exist as beta-barrels with the beta-strands traversing the thickness of the outer membrane. The channels often have diameters in the range of 1 nm, and thus the penetration rates of solutes through porin channels are likely to be affected strongly by what appear to be minor differences in the size, shape, hydrophobicity or charge of the solute molecule. With the specific channels, the presence of binding sites can accelerate very significantly the diffusion of some ligands when they are present at low concentrations. Thus these simple channels can sometimes achieve a surprising degree of real or apparent specificity. Recent data tend to favour the idea that these proteins are first exported into the periplasm, and then inserted into the outer membrane. Although lipopolysaccharides seem to play a significant role in the final assembly of the trimeric porins, the details of the targeting process still remain to be elucidated.