The formation of protein disulfide bonds is an oxidative reaction that is crucial for the folding and maturation of many secreted and membrane proteins. Both prokaryotic and eukaryotic cells possess various disulfide oxidoreductases and redox-active cofactors to accelerate this oxidative reaction in a correct manner. Crystal or solution structures have been solved for some of the oxidoreductases in the past 10 years, leading to remarkable progress in the field of thiol-based redox cell biology. Consequently, structural and mechanistic similarities in the disulfide bond formation pathways have been uncovered. This review highlights the molecular basis of the elaborate oxidative systems operating in the Escherichia coli periplasm, the endoplasmic reticulum lumen and the mitochondrial intermembrane space. The accumulated knowledge provides important insights into how protein and redox homeostasis are maintained in the cell.