HIV is among the most generically variable of human pathogens. A comprehensive and detailed description of HIV strains in the pandemic is an important foundation for diagnosis, treatment, and prevention. The current sequence database for HIV includes almost 800 complete genome sequences, documenting HIV-1 groups M, O, and N, and HIV-2. Among HIV-1 group M strains, responsible for the vast majority of HIV infections worldwide, 743 sequences represent 9 genetic subtypes, 16 circulating recombinant forms (CRF) that are spreading in populations, and a variety of unique recombinant forms (URF), identified so far only from a single individual. The global distribution of HIV is complex and dynamic with regional epidemics harboring only a subset of the global diversity. HIV strains differ enormously in terms of global prevalence. Six strains account for the majority of HIV infections: HIV-1 subtypes A, B, C, D, and two of the CRF, CRF01-AE and CRF02_AG, respectively. Many of the known subtypes and recombinant forms are currently rare in the epidemic, but could spread more widely if favorable conditions arise. HIV-2 is largely restricted to West Africa at relatively low prevalence there. Groups O and N of HIV-1 are very rare in the pandemic. The goal of universal coverage of HIV-1 strains by diagnostic tests can be met by minimizing false negative test rates for the six globally prevalent HIV-1 group M strains and HIV-2, and by evaluating systematically coverage of rare subtypes and recombinant forms.