Mammals have coevolved with a large community of symbiotic, commensal, and some potentially pathogenic microbes. The trillions of bacteria and hundreds of species in our guts form a relatively stable community that resists invasion by outsiders, including pathogens. This powerful protective force is referred to as colonization resistance. We discuss the variety of proposed or demonstrated mechanisms that can mediate colonization resistance and some potential ways to manipulate them for improved human health. Instances in which certain bacterial pathogens can overcome colonization resistance are also discussed.