Microbial communities play vital roles in many aspects of our lives, although our understanding of microbial biogeography and community profiles remains unclear. The number of microbes or the diversity of the microbes, even in small environmental niches, is staggering. Current microbiological methods used to analyse these communities are limited, in that many microorganisms cannot be cultured. Even for the isolates that can be cultured, the expense of identifying them definitively is much too high to be practical. Many recent molecular technologies, combined with bioinformatic tools, are raising the bar by improving the sensitivity and reliability of microbial community analysis. These tools and techniques range from those that attempt to understand a microbial community from their length heterogeneity profiles to those that help to identify the strains and species of a random sampling of the microbes in a given sample. These technologies are reviewed here, using the microbial communities present in the lungs of cystic fibrosis patients as a paradigm.