Apoptosis is a programmed form of cell death with well-defined morphological traits that are often associated with activation of caspases. More recently evidence has become available demonstrating that upon caspase inhibition alternative programs of cell death are executed, including ones with features characteristic of necrosis. These findings have changed our view of necrosis as a passive and essentially accidental form of cell death to that of an active, regulated and controllable process. Also necrosis has now been observed in parallel with, rather than as an alternative pathway to, apoptosis. Thus, cell death responses are extremely flexible despite being programmed. In this review, some of the hallmarks of different programmed cell death modes have been highlighted before focusing the discussion on necrosis. Obligatory events associated with this form of cell death include uncompensated cell swelling and related changes at the plasma membrane. In this context, representatives of the transient receptor channel family and their regulation are discussed. Also mechanisms that lead to execution of the necrotic cell death program are highlighted. Emphasis is laid on summarizing our understanding of events that permit switching between cell death modes and how they connect to necrosis. Finally, potential implications for the treatment of some disease states are mentioned.