Contacting bodies subjected to sufficiently large applied shear will undergo frictional sliding. The onset of this motion is mediated by dynamically propagating fronts, akin to earthquakes, that rupture the discrete contacts that form the interface separating the bodies. Macroscopic motion commences only after these ruptures have traversed the entire interface. Comparison of measured rupture dynamics with the detailed predictions of fracture mechanics reveals that the propagation dynamics, dissipative properties, radiation, and arrest of these “laboratory earthquakes” are in excellent quantitative agreement with the predictions of the theory of brittle fracture. Thus, interface fracture replaces the idea of a characteristic static friction coefficient as a description of the onset of friction. This fracture-based description of friction additionally provides a fundamental description of earthquake dynamics and arrest.