Many bacterial pathogens rely on an intracellular cycle to ensure their proliferation within infected hosts, through their ability to avoid or circumvent host bactericidal pathways. Recent evidence supports an increasingly important role for the autophagy pathway in innate immune defences against intracellular pathogens, as a mechanism of capture of either cytosol-adapted or vacuolar bacteria that redirect them to the lysosomal compartment for killing. Antibacterial autophagy, also referred to as xenophagy, involves selective recognition of intracellular bacteria and their targeting to the autophagic machinery for degradation. Here we review recent advances in our molecular understanding of these processes, and in how bacteria have adapted to avoid xenophagy or even take advantage of this innate immune process.