Chromosome conformation capture (3C) methods are central to understanding the link between nuclear structure and function, and the physical interactions between distal regulatory elements and promoters. However, no one method is appropriate to address all biological questions, as each variant differs markedly in resolution, reproducibility, throughput and biases. A thorough appreciation of the strengths and weaknesses of each technique is critical when choosing the correct method for a specific application or for gauging how best to interpret different sources of data. In addition, the analysis method must be carefully considered, as this choice can profoundly affect the output. In this Review, we describe and compare the different available 3C-based approaches, with a focus on the analysis of mammalian genomes.