During the last decade, great advances have been made in the study of bacterial genomes which is perhaps better described by the term bacterial genomics. The application of powerful techniques, such as pulsed-field gel electrophoresis of macro-restriction fragments of genomic DNA, has freed the characterisation of the chromosomes of many bacteria from the constraints imposed by classical genetic analysis. It is now possible to analyse the genome of virtually every microorganism by direct molecular methods and to construct detailed physical and gene maps. In this review, the various practical approaches are compared and contrasted, and some of the emerging themes of bacterial genomics, such as the size, shape, number and organisation of chromosomes are discussed.