Photorhabdus are entomopathogenic members of the family Enterobacteriaceae. In addition to killing insects Photorhabdus also have a mutualistic association with nematodes from the family Heterorhabditidiae. Therefore, the bacteria have a complex life cycle that involves temporally separated pathogenic and mutualistic associations with two different invertebrate hosts. This tripartite Photorhabdus–insect–nematode association provides researchers with a unique opportunity to characterize the prokaryotic contribution to two different symbioses, i.e. pathogenicity and mutualism while also studying the role of the host in determining the outcome of association with the bacteria. In this review I will outline the life cycle of Photorhabdus and describe recent important advances in our understanding of the symbiology of Photorhabdus. Finally, the contribution made by this model to our understanding of the nature of symbiotic associations will be discussed.