The emergence of proteomics, the large-scale analysis of proteins, has been inspired by the realization that the final product of a gene is inherently more complex and closer to function than the gene itself. Shortfalls in the ability of bioinformatics to predict both the existence and function of genes have also illustrated the need for protein analysis. Moreover, only through the study of proteins can posttranslational modifications be determined, which can profoundly affect protein function. Proteomics has been enabled by the accumulation of both DNA and protein sequence databases, improvements in mass spectrometry, and the development of computer algorithms for database searching. In this review, we describe why proteomics is important, how it is conducted, and how it can be applied to complement other existing technologies. We conclude that currently, the most practical application of proteomics is the analysis of target proteins as opposed to entire proteomes. This type of proteomics, referred to as functional proteomics, is always driven by a specific biological question. In this way, protein identification and characterization has a meaningful outcome. We discuss some of the advantages of a functional proteomics approach and provide examples of how different methodologies can be utilized to address a wide variety of biological problems.