In response to even a single chromosomal double-strand DNA break, cells enact the DNA damage checkpoint. This checkpoint triggers cell cycle arrest, providing time for the cell to repair damaged chromosomes before entering mitosis. This mechanism helps prevent the segregation of damaged or mutated chromosomes and thus promotes genomic stability. Recent work has elucidated the molecular mechanisms underlying several critical steps in checkpoint activation, notably the recruitment of the upstream checkpoint kinases of the ATM and ATR families to different damaged DNA structures and the molecular events through which these kinases activate their effectors. Chromatin modification has emerged as one important component of checkpoint activation and maintenance. Following DNA repair, the checkpoint pathway is inactivated in a process termed recovery. A related but genetically distinct process, adaptation, controls cell cycle re-entry in the face of unrepairable damage.