Ever since the first publications by R.J. Schwartz in 1975, research into back-contact cells as an alternative to cells with a front and rear contact has remained a research topic. In the last decade, interest in back-contact cells has been growing and a gradual introduction to industrial applications is emerging. The goal of this review is to present a comprehensive summary of results obtained throughout the years. Back-contact cells are divided into three main classes: back-junction (BJ), emitter wrap-through (EWT) and metallisation wrap-through (MWT), each introduced as logical descendents from conventional solar cells. This deviation from the chronology of the developments is maintained during the discussion of technological results. In addition to progress on manufacturing these cells, aspects of cell modelling and module manufacturing are discussed and an outlook towards industrial implementation is presented. Copyright © 2005 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.