The rapid increase in drug-resistant infections has presented a serious challenge to antimicrobial therapies. The failure of the most potent antibiotics to kill "superbugs" emphasizes the urgent need to develop other control agents. Here we review the history and new development of antimicrobial peptides (AMPs), a growing class of natural and synthetic peptides with a wide spectrum of targets including viruses, bacteria, fungi, and parasites. We summarize the major types of AMPs, their modes of action, and the common mechanisms of AMP resistance. In addition, we discuss the principles for designing effective AMPs and the potential of using AMPs to control biofilms (multicellular structures of bacteria embedded in extracellular matrixes) and persister cells (dormant phenotypic variants of bacterial cells that are highly tolerant to antibiotics).