Bacteria possess an extraordinary repertoire for intercellular communication and social behaviour. This repertoire for bacterial communication, termed as quorum sensing (QS), depends on specific diffusible signal molecules. There are many different kinds of signal molecules in the bacterial community. Among those signal molecules, N-acyl homoserine lactones (HSLs, in other publications also referred to as AHLs, acy-HSLs etc.) are often employed as QS signal molecules for many Gram-negative bacteria. Due to the specific structure and tiny amount of those HSL signal molecules, the characterization of HSLs has been the subject of extensive investigations in the last decades and has become a paradigm for bacteria intercellular signalling. In this article, different methods, including extraction, purification and characterization of HSLs, are reviewed. The review provides an insight into identification and characterization of new HSLs and other signal molecules for bacterial intercellular communication.