Caspases are the central component of the apoptotic machinery that irreversibly commits a cell to die. Whereas all caspases are structurally similar, those involved in apoptosis can be categorized functionally as either initiator or effector caspases, which are activated by distinct mechanisms. The activated caspases are subject to inhibition by the inhibitor of apoptosis family of proteins. This inhibition can be removed by Smac/DIABLO during apoptosis. The underlying molecular mechanisms of caspase regulation are discussed in this article.