X inactivation is the developmentally regulated silencing of a single X chromosome in XX female mammals. In recent years, the Xist gene has been revealed as the master regulatory switch controlling this process. Parental imprinting and/or counting mechanisms ensure that Xist is expressed only on the inactive X chromosome. Chromosome silencing then results from the accumulation of the Xist RNA silencing signal, in cis, over the entire length of the X chromosome. A key issue has been to identify the factors that interact with Xist RNA to initiate heritable gene silencing. This review discusses recent progress that has put this goal in sight.