Bacteriophages or phages are the most abundant organisms in the biosphere and they are a ubiquitous feature of prokaryotic existence. A bacteriophage is a virus which infects a bacterium. Archaea are also infected by viruses, whether these should be referred to as 'phages' is debatable, but they are included as such in the scope this article. Phages have been of interest to scientists as tools to understand fundamental molecular biology, as vectors of horizontal gene transfer and drivers of bacterial evolution, as sources of diagnostic and genetic tools and as novel therapeutic agents. Unraveling the biology of phages and their relationship with their hosts is key to understanding microbial systems and their exploitation. In this article we describe the roles of phages in different host systems and show how modeling, microscopy, isolation, genomic and metagenomic based approaches have come together to provide unparalleled insights into these small but vital constituents of the microbial world.