The purpose of this paper is to review and further develop the subject of variational integration algorithms as it applies to mechanical systems of engineering interest. In particular, the conservation properties of both synchronous and asynchronous variational integrators (AVIs) are discussed in detail. We present selected numerical examples which demonstrate the excellent accuracy, conservation and convergence characteristics of AVIs. In these tests, AVIs are found to result in substantial speed-ups, at equal accuracy, relative to explicit Newmark. A mathematical proof of convergence of the AVIs is also presented in this paper. Finally, we develop the subject of horizontal variations and configurational forces in discrete dynamics. This theory leads to exact path-independent characterizations of the configurational forces acting on discrete systems. Notable examples are the configurational forces acting on material nodes in a finite element discretisation; and the J-integral at the tip of a crack in a finite element mesh. Copyright © 2004 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.