Cellular receptors usually contain a designated sensory domain that recognizes the signal. Per/Arnt/Sim (PAS) domains are ubiquitous sensors in thousands of species ranging from bacteria to humans. Although PAS domains were described as intracellular sensors, recent structural studies revealed PAS-like domains in extracytoplasmic regions in several transmembrane receptors. However, these structurally defined extracellular PAS-like domains do not match sequence-derived PAS domain models, and thus their distribution across the genomic landscape remains largely unknown. Here we show that structurally defined extracellular PAS-like domains belong to the Cache superfamily, which is homologous to, but distinct from the PAS superfamily. Our newly built computational models enabled identification of Cache domains in tens of thousands of signal transduction proteins including those from important pathogens and model organisms. Furthermore, we show that Cache domains comprise the dominant mode of extracellular sensing in prokaryotes.