We investigate properties of topologies on sets of finite and infinite words over a finite alphabet. The guiding example is the topology generated by the prefix relation on the set of finite words, considered as a partial order. This partial order extends naturally to the set of infinite words; hence it generates a topology on the union of the sets of finite and infinite words. We consider several partial orders which have similar properties and identify general principles according to which the transition from finite to infinite words is natural. We provide a uniform topological framework for the set of finite and infinite words to handle limits in a general fashion. © 2009 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.