Esterases (EC 3.1.1.x) represent a diverse group of hydrolases catalyzing the cleavage and formation of ester bonds and are widely distributed in animals, plants and microorganisms. Beside lipases, a considerable number of microbial carboxyl esterases have also been discovered and overexpressed. This review summarizes their properties and classification. Special emphasis is given on their application in organic synthesis for the resolution of racemates and prostereogenic compounds. In addition, recent results for altering their properties by directed evolution are presented.