We review and synthesize recent developments in the study of the invasion of communities in heterogeneous environments, considering both the invasibility of the community and impacts to the community. We consider both empirical and theoretical studies. For each of three major kinds of environmental heterogeneity (temporal, spatial and invader-driven), we find evidence that heterogeneity is critical to the invasibility of the community, the rate of spread, and the impacts on the community following invasion. We propose an environmental heterogeneity hypothesis of invasions, whereby heterogeneity both increases invasion success and reduces the impact to native species in the community, because it promotes invasion and coexistence mechanisms that are not possible in homogeneous environments. This hypothesis could help to explain recent findings that diversity is often increased as a result of biological invasions. It could also explain the scale dependence of the diversity–invasibility relationship. Despite the undoubted importance of heterogeneity to the invasion of communities, it has been studied remarkably little and new research is needed that simultaneously considers invasion, environmental heterogeneity and community characteristics. As a young field, there is an unrivalled opportunity for theoreticians and experimenters to work together to build a tractable theory informed by data.