Microbial infections are recognized by the innate immune system both to elicit immediate defense and to generate long-lasting adaptive immunity. To detect and respond to vastly different groups of pathogens, the innate immune system uses several recognition systems that rely on sensing common structural and functional features associated with different classes of microorganisms. These recognition systems determine microbial location, viability, replication and pathogenicity. Detection of these features by recognition pathways of the innate immune system is translated into different classes of effector responses though specialized populations of dendritic cells. Multiple mechanisms for the induction of immune responses are variations on a common design principle wherein the cells that sense infections produce one set of cytokines to induce lymphocytes to produce another set of cytokines, which in turn activate effector responses. Here we discuss these emerging principles of innate control of adaptive immunity.