There is an astonishing array of microbial alcohol oxidoreductases. They display a wide variety of substrate specificities and they fulfill several vital but quite different physiological functions. Some of these enzymes are involved in the production of alcoholic beverages and of industrial solvents, others are important in the production of vinegar, and still others participate in the degradation of naturally occurring and xenobiotic aromatic compounds as well as in the growth of bacteria and yeasts on methanol. They can be divided into three major categories. (1) The NAD- or NADP-dependent dehydrogenases. These can in turn be divided into the group I long-chain (approximately 350 amino acid residues) zinc-dependent enzymes such as alcohol dehydrogenases I, II, and III of Saccharomyces cerevisiae or the plasmid-encoded benzyl alcohol dehydrogenase of Pseudomonas putida; the group II short-chain (approximately 250 residues) zinc-independent enzymes such as ribitol dehydrogenase of Klebsiella aerogenes; the group III "iron-activated" enzymes that generally contain approximately 385 amino acid residues, such as alcohol dehydrogenase II of Zymomonas mobilis and alcohol dehydrogenase IV of Saccharomyces cerevisiae, but may contain almost 900 residues in the case of the multifunctional alcohol dehydrogenases of Escherichia coli and Clostridium acetobutylicum. The aldehyde/alcohol oxidoreductase of Amycolatopsis methanolica and the methanol dehydrogenases of A. methanolica and Mycobacterium gasti are 4-nitroso-N,N-dimethylaniline-dependent nicotinoproteins. (2) NAD(P)-independent enzymes that use pyrroloquinoline quinone, haem or cofactor F420 as cofactor, exemplified by methanol dehydrogenase of Paracoccus denitrificans, ethanol dehydrogenase of Acetobacter and Gluconobacter spp. and the alcohol dehydrogenases of certain archaebacteria. (3) Oxidases that catalyze an essentially irreversible oxidation of alcohols, such as methanol oxidase of Hansenula polymorpha and probably the veratryl alcohol oxidases of certain fungi involved in lignin degradation. This review deals mainly with those enzymes for which complete amino acid sequences are available. The discussion focuses on a comparison of their primary, secondary, tertiary, and quaternary structures and their catalytic mechanisms. The physiological roles of the enzymes and isoenzymes are also considered, as are their probable evolutionary relationships.