The hematopoietic system is the paradigm for adult mammalian stem-cell research. Recent advances have improved our understanding of the cellular and molecular components of the microenvironment - or niche - that regulates hematopoietic stem cells (HSCs). Here, we summarize the molecular and cellular properties of two types of niche, namely the osteoblastic and the vascular niche, in homeostatic regulation of HSC behavior, including its maintenance, proliferation, differentiation, mobilization and homing. We highlight the most recent findings and point to an important trend to the study of niche activity in cancers. Knowledge of the basic features of the HSC niches, including physical location, cell type and various signaling pathways, should provide insights into other stem-cell systems and benefit clinical applications.