The synaptonemal complex (SC) is a protein lattice that resembles railroad tracks and connects paired homologous chromosomes in most meiotic systems. The two side rails of the SC, known as lateral elements (LEs), are connected by proteins known as transverse filaments. The LEs are derived from the axial elements of the chromosomes and play important roles in chromosome condensation, pairing, transverse filament assembly, and prohibiting double-strand breaks (DSBs) from entering into recombination pathways that involve sister chromatids. The proteins that make up the transverse filaments of the SC also play a much earlier role in committing a subset of DSBs into a recombination pathway, which results in the production of reciprocal meiotic crossovers. Sites of crossover commitment can be observed as locations where the SC initiates and as immunostaining foci for a set of proteins required for the processing of DSBs to mature crossovers. In most (but not all) organisms it is the establishment of sites marking such crossover-committed DSBs that facilitates completion of synapsis (full-length extension of the SC). The function of the mature full-length SC may involve both the completion of meiotic recombination at the DNA level and the exchange of the axial elements of the two chromatids involved in the crossover. However, the demonstration that the sites of crossover formation are designated prior to SC formation, and the finding that these sites display interference, argues against a role of the mature SC in mediating the process of interference. Finally, in at least some organisms, modifications of the SC alone are sufficient to ensure meiotic chromosome segregation in the complete absence of meiotic recombination.