The phyllosphere represents the habitat provided by the aboveground parts of plants, and on a global scale supports a large and complex microbial community. Microbial interactions in the phyllosphere can affect the fitness of plants in natural communities, the productivity of agricultural crops, and the safety of horticultural produce for human consumption. The structure of phyllosphere communities reflects immigration, survival and growth of microbial colonists, which is influenced by numerous environmental factors in addition to leaf physico-chemical properties. The recent use of culture-independent techniques has demonstrated considerable previously unrecognized diversity in phyllosphere bacterial communities. Furthermore, there is significant recent evidence that plant genotype can play a major role in determining the structure of phyllosphere microbial communities. The main aims of this review are: (i) to discuss the diversity of phyllosphere microbial populations; (ii) to consider the processes by which microbes colonize the phyllosphere; (iii) to address the leaf characteristics and environmental factors that determine the survival and growth of colonists; (iv) to discuss microbial adaptations that allow establishment in the phyllosphere habitat and (v) to evaluate evidence for plant genotypic control of phyllosphere communities. Finally, we suggest approaches and priority areas for future research on phyllosphere microbiology.