Processes fundamental to all models of genetic recombination include the homologous pairing and subsequent exchange of DNA strands. Biochemical analysis of these events has been conducted primarily on the recA protein of Escherichia coli, although proteins which can promote such reactions have been purified from many sources, both prokaryotic and eukaryotic. The activities of these homologous pairing and DNA strand exchange proteins are either ATP-dependent, as predicted based on the recA protein paradigm, or, more unexpectedly, ATP-independent. This review examines the reactions promoted by both classes of proteins and highlights their similarities and differences. The mechanistic implications of the apparent existence of 2 classes of strand exchange protein are discussed.