The lengths of ultraviolet irradiation-induced repair resynthesis patches were measured in repair-competent extracts of Escherichia coli. Extracts containing wild-type deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) polymerase I introduced a patch 15 to 20 nucleotides in length during repair of ColE1 plasmid DNA; extracts containing the polA5 mutant form of DNA polymerase I introduced a patch only about 5 nucleotides in length in a similar reaction. The repair patch length in the presence of either DNA polymerase corresponded to the processivity of that polymerase (the average number of nucleotides added per enzyme-DNA binding event) as determined with purified enzymes and DNA treated with a nonspecific endonuclease. The base composition of the repair patch inserted by the wild-type DNA polymerase was similar to that of the bacterial genome, whereas the patch inserted by the mutant enzyme was skewed toward greater pyrimidine incorporation. This skewing is expected, considering the predominance of pyrimidine incorporation occurring at the ultraviolet lesion and the short patch made by the mutant enzyme. Since the defect in the polA5 DNA polymerase which causes premature dissociation from DNA is reflected exactly in the repair patch length, the processive mechanism of the polymerase must be a central determinant of patch length.