Noninvasive stimulation of the brain by means of transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) or transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) has driven important discoveries in the field of human memory functions. Stand-alone or in combination with other brain mapping techniques noninvasive brain stimulation can assess issues such as location and timing of brain activity, connectivity and plasticity of neural circuits and functional relevance of a circumscribed brain area to a given cognitive task. In this emerging field, major advances in technology have been made in a relatively short period. New stimulation protocols and, especially, the progress in the application of tDCS have made it possible to obtain longer and much clearer inhibitory or facilitatory effects even after the stimulation has ceased. In this introductory review, we outline the basic principles, discuss technical limitations and describe how noninvasive brain stimulation can be used to study human memory functions in vivo. Though improvement of cognitive functions through noninvasive brain stimulation is promising, it still remains an exciting challenge to extend the use of TMS and tDCS from research tools in neuroscience to the treatment of neurological and psychiatric patients.