Proteases play prominent roles in many physiological processes and the pathogenesis of various diseases, which makes them interesting drug targets. To fully understand the functional role of proteases in these processes, it is necessary to characterize the target specificity of the enzymes, identify endogenous substrates and cleavage products as well as protease activators and inhibitors. The complexity of these proteolytic networks presents a considerable analytic challenge. To comprehensively characterize these systems, quantitative methods that capture the spatial and temporal distributions of the network members are needed. Recently, activity-based workflows have come to the forefront to tackle the dynamic aspects of proteolytic processing networks in vitro, ex vivo and in vivo. In this review, we will discuss how mass spectrometry-based approaches can be used to gain new insights into protease biology by determining substrate specificities, profiling the activity-states of proteases, monitoring proteolysis in vivo, measuring reaction kinetics and defining in vitro and in vivo proteolytic events. In addition, examples of future aspects of protease research that go beyond mass spectrometry-based applications are given.