Filopodia are prominent cell surface projections filled with bundles of linear actin filaments that drive their protrusion. These structures are considered important sensory organelles, for instance in neuronal growth cones or during the fusion of sheets of epithelial tissues. In addition, they can serve a precursor function in adhesion site or stress fibre formation. Actin filament assembly is essential for filopodia formation and turnover, yet the precise molecular mechanisms of filament nucleation and/or elongation are controversial. Indeed, conflicting reports on the molecular requirements of filopodia initiation have prompted researchers to propose different types and/or alternative or redundant mechanisms mediating this process. However, recent data shed new light on these questions, and they indicate that the balance of a limited set of biochemical activities can determine the structural outcome of a given filopodium. Here we focus on discussing our current view of the relevance of these activities, and attempt to propose a molecular mechanism of filopodia assembly based on a single core machinery.