The structures of a number of processive enzymes have been determined recently. These proteins remain attached to their polymeric substrates and may perform thousands of rounds of catalysis before dissociating. Based on the degree of enclosure of the substrate, the structures fall into two broad categories. In one group, the substrate is partially enclosed, while in the other class, enclosure is complete. In the latter case, enclosure is achieved by way of an asymmetric structure for some enzymes while others use a symmetrical toroid. In those cases where the protein completely encloses its polymeric substrate, the two are topologically linked and an immediate explanation for processivity is provided. In cases where there is only partial enclosure, the structural basis for processivity is less obvious. There are, for example, pairs of proteins that have quite similar structures but differ substantially in their processivity. It does appear, however, that the enzymes that are processive tend to be those that more completely enclose their substrates. In general terms, proteins that do not use topological restraint appear to achieve processivity by using a large interaction surface. This allows the enzyme to bind with moderate affinity at a multitude of adjacent sites distributed along its polymeric substrate. At the same time, the use of a large interaction surface minimizes the possibility that the enzyme might bind at a small number of sites with much higher affinity, which would interfere with sliding. Proteins that can both slide along a polymeric substrate, and, as well, recognize highly specific sites (e.g., some site-specific DNA-binding proteins) appear to undergo a conformational change between the cognate and noncognate-binding modes.