Streptococcus pneumoniae is an important pathogen causing invasive diseases such as sepsis, meningitis, and pneumonia. The burden of disease is highest in the youngest and oldest sections of the population in both more and less developed countries. The treatment of pneumococcal infections is complicated by the worldwide emergence in pneumococci of resistance to penicillin and other antibiotics. Pneumococcal disease is preceded by asymptomatic colonisation, which is especially high in children. The current seven-valent conjugate vaccine is highly effective against invasive disease caused by the vaccine-type strains. However, vaccine coverage is limited, and replacement by non-vaccine serotypes resulting in disease is a serious threat for the near future. Therefore, the search for new vaccine candidates that elicit protection against a broader range of pneumococcal strains is important. Several surface-associated protein vaccines are currently under investigation. Another important issue is whether the aim should be to prevent pneumococcal disease by eradication of nasopharyngeal colonisation, or to prevent bacterial invasion leaving colonisation relatively unaffected and hence preventing the occurrence of replacement colonisation and disease. To illustrate the importance of pneumococcal colonisation in relation to pneumococcal disease and prevention of disease, we discuss the mechanism and epidemiology of colonisation, the complexity of relations within and between species, and the consequences of the different preventive strategies for pneumococcal colonisation.