Abstract This paper is the first of three parts of a comprehensive survey of a newly emerging field: a topological approach to the study of locally finite graphs that crucially incorporates their ends. Topological arcs and circles, which may pass through ends, assume the role played in finite graphs by paths and cycles. The first two parts of the survey together provide a suitable entry point to this field for new readers; they are available in combined form from the ArXiv . They are complemented by a third part , which looks at the theory from an algebraic-topological point of view. The topological approach indicated above has made it possible to extend to locally finite graphs many classical theorems of finite graph theory that do not extend verbatim. While the second part of this survey  will concentrate on those applications, this first part explores the new theory as such: it introduces the basic concepts and facts, describes some of the proof techniques that have emerged over the past 10 years (as well as some of the pitfalls these proofs have in stall for the naive explorer), and establishes connections to neighbouring fields such as algebraic topology and infinite matroids. Numerous open problems are suggested.