All cells must traffic proteins across their membranes. This essential process is responsible for the biogenesis of membranes and cell walls, motility and nutrient scavenging and uptake, and is also involved in pathogenesis and symbiosis. The translocase is an impressively dynamic nanomachine that is the central component which catalyses transmembrane crossing. This complex, multi-stage reaction involves a cascade of inter- and intramolecular interactions that select, sort and target polypeptides to the membrane, and use energy to promote the movement of these polypeptides across--or their lateral escape and integration into--the phospholipid bilayer, with high fidelity and efficiency. Here, we review the most recent data on the structure and function of the translocase nanomachine.