Monomolecular arrays of protein or glycoprotein subunits forming surface layers (S-layers) are one of the most commonly observed prokaryotic cell envelope components. S-layers are generally the most abundantly expressed proteins, have been observed in species of nearly every taxonomical group of walled bacteria, and represent an almost universal feature of archaeal envelopes. The isoporous lattices completely covering the cell surface provide organisms with various selection advantages including functioning as protective coats, molecular sieves and ion traps, as structures involved in surface recognition and cell adhesion, and as antifouling layers. S-layers are also identified to contribute to virulence when present as a structural component of pathogens. In Archaea, most of which possess S-layers as exclusive wall component, they are involved in determining cell shape and cell division. Studies on structure, chemistry, genetics, assembly, function, and evolutionary relationship of S-layers revealed considerable application potential in (nano)biotechnology, biomimetics, biomedicine, and synthetic biology.