Insertion sequences (ISs) constitute an important component of most bacterial genomes. Over 500 individual ISs have been described in the literature to date, and many more are being discovered in the ongoing prokaryotic and eukaryotic genome-sequencing projects. The last 10 years have also seen some striking advances in our understanding of the transposition process itself. Not least of these has been the development of various in vitro transposition systems for both prokaryotic and eukaryotic elements and, for several of these, a detailed understanding of the transposition process at the chemical level. This review presents a general overview of the organization and function of insertion sequences of eubacterial, archaebacterial, and eukaryotic origins with particular emphasis on bacterial elements and on different aspects of the transposition mechanism. It also attempts to provide a framework for classification of these elements by assigning them to various families or groups. A total of 443 members of the collection have been grouped in 17 families based on combinations of the following criteria: (i) similarities in genetic organization (arrangement of open reading frames); (ii) marked identities or similarities in the enzymes which mediate the transposition reactions, the recombinases/transposases (Tpases); (iii) similar features of their ends (terminal IRs); and (iv) fate of the nucleotide sequence of their target sites (generation of a direct target duplication of determined length). A brief description of the mechanism(s) involved in the mobility of individual ISs in each family and of the structure-function relationships of the individual Tpases is included where available.