Restriction endonucleases are enzymes which recognize short DNA sequences and cleave the DNA in both strands. Depending on the enzymological properties different types are distinguished. Type II restriction endonucleases are homodimers which recognize short palindromic sequences 4-8 bp in length and, in the presence of Mg2+, cleave the DNA within or next to the recognition site. They are capable of non-specific binding to DNA and make use of linear diffusion to locate their target site. Binding and recognition of the specific site involves contacts to the bases of the recognition sequence and the phosphodiester backbone over approximately 10-12 bp. In general, recognition is highly redundant which explains the extreme specificity of these enzymes. Specific binding is accompanied by conformational changes over both the protein and the DNA. This mutual induced fit leads to the activation of the catalytic centers. The precise mechanism of cleavage has not yet been established for any restriction endonuclease. Currently two models are discussed: the substrate-assisted catalysis mechanism and the two-metal-ion mechanism. Structural similarities identified between EcoRI, EcoRV, BamHI, PvuII and Cfr10I suggest that many type II restriction endonucleases are not only functionally but also evolutionarily related.