Homologous recombination (HR) serves to eliminate deleterious lesions, such as double-stranded breaks and interstrand crosslinks, from chromosomes. HR is also critical for the preservation of replication forks, for telomere maintenance, and chromosome segregation in meiosis I. As such, HR is indispensable for the maintenance of genome integrity and the avoidance of cancers in humans. The HR reaction is mediated by a conserved class of enzymes termed recombinases. Two recombinases, Rad51 and Dmc1, catalyze the pairing and shuffling of homologous DNA sequences in eukaryotic cells via a filamentous intermediate on ssDNA called the presynaptic filament. The assembly of the presynaptic filament is a rate-limiting process that is enhanced by recombination mediators, such as the breast tumor suppressor BRCA2. HR accessory factors that facilitate other stages of the Rad51- and Dmc1-catalyzed homologous DNA pairing and strand exchange reaction have also been identified. Recent progress on elucidating the mechanisms of action of Rad51 and Dmc1 and their cohorts of ancillary factors is reviewed here.