Humoral immune responses at mucosal surfaces have historically focused on IgA. Growing evidence highlights the complexity of IgA-inducing pathways and the functional impact of IgA on mucosal commensal bacteria. In the gut, IgA contributes to the establishment of a mutualistic host-microbiota relationship that is required to maintain homeostasis and prevent disease. This Review discusses how mucosal IgA responses occur in an increasingly complex humoral defence network that also encompasses IgM, IgG and IgD. Aside from integrating the protective functions of IgA, these hitherto neglected mucosal antibodies may strengthen the communication between mucosal and systemic immune compartments.