Homing endonucleases are rare-cutting enzymes encoded by introns and inteins. They have striking structural and functional properties that distinguish them from restriction enzymes. Nomenclature conventions analogous to those for restriction enzymes have been developed for the homing endonucleases. Recent progress in understanding the structure and function of the four families of homing enzymes is reviewed. Of particular interest are the first reported structures of homing endonucleases of the LAGLIDADG family. The exploitation of the homing enzymes in genome analysis and recombination research is also summarized. Finally, the evolution of homing endonucleases is considered, both at the structure-function level and in terms of their persistence in widely divergent biological systems.