Humoral immunity depends on the germinal centre (GC) reaction during which somatically mutated high-affinity memory B cells and plasma cells are generated. Recent studies have uncovered crucial cues that are required for the formation and the maintenance of GCs and for the selection of high-affinity antibody mutants. In addition, it is now clear that these events are promoted by the dynamic movements of cells within and between GCs. These findings have resolved the complexities of the GC reaction in greater detail than ever before. This Review focuses on these recent advances and discusses their implications for the establishment of humoral immunity.