Our understanding of the functions of cardiac fibroblasts has moved beyond their roles in heart structure and extracellular matrix generation and now includes their contributions to paracrine, mechanical and electrical signalling during ontogenesis and normal cardiac activity. Fibroblasts also have central roles in pathogenic remodelling during myocardial ischaemia, hypertension and heart failure. As key contributors to scar formation, they are crucial for tissue repair after interventions including surgery and ablation. Novel experimental approaches targeting cardiac fibroblasts are promising potential therapies for heart disease. Indeed, several existing drugs act, at least partially, through effects on cardiac connective tissue. This Review outlines the origins and roles of fibroblasts in cardiac development, homeostasis and disease; illustrates the involvement of fibroblasts in current and emerging clinical interventions; and identifies future targets for research and development.