Recent years have seen a rapid expansion of research into nanophotonics based on surface plasmon–polaritons. These electromagnetic waves propagate along metal–dielectric interfaces and can be guided by metallic nanostructures beyond the diffraction limit. This remarkable capability has unique prospects for the design of highly integrated photonic signal-processing systems, nanoresolution optical imaging techniques and sensors. This Review summarizes the basic principles and major achievements of plasmon guiding, and details the current state-of-the-art in subwavelength plasmonic waveguides, passive and active nanoplasmonic components for the generation, manipulation and detection of radiation, and configurations for the nanofocusing of light. Potential future developments and applications of nanophotonic devices and circuits are also discussed, such as in optical signals processing, nanoscale optical devices and near-field microscopy with nanoscale resolution.