The genetics and biochemistry of genetic recombination in E. coli has been studied for over four decades and provides a useful model system to understand recombination in other organisms. Here we provide an overview of the mechanisms of recombination and how such processes contribute to DNA repair. We describe the E. coli functions that are known to contribute to these mechanisms, step by step, and summarize their biochemical properties in relation to the role these proteins play in vivo. We feature areas of investigation that are newly emerging, as well as work that provides a historical perspective to the field. Finally, we highlight some of the questions that remain unanswered.