The molecular processes involved in the transduction of small staphylococcal plasmids by a generalized transducing phage, phi 11, have been analysed. The plasmids are transduced in the form of linear concatemers containing only plasmid DNA; plasmid-initiated replication is required for their generation but additive interplasmid recombination is not. Concatemers are probably generated by the interaction of one or more phage functions with replicating plasmid DNA. Insertion of any restriction fragment of the phage into the plasmid causes an approximately 10(5)-fold increase in transduction frequency, regardless of the size or genetic content of the fragment. The resulting transducing particles (Hft particles) contain mostly pure linear concatemers composed of tandem repeats of the plasmid::phage chimera, and their production requires active plasmid-initiated replication. The high frequency of transduction is a consequence of homologous recombination between the linear chimeric and phage concatemers, which has the effect of introducing an efficient pac site into the former. Following introduction into lysogenic recipient bacteria, the transducing DNA is first converted to the supercoiled form, then processed to monomers by a mechanism that requires the active participation of the plasmid replication system.