— Building upon Dyson’s fundamental 1962 article known in random-matrix theory as the threefold way, we classify disordered fermion systems with quadratic Hamiltonians by their unitary and antiunitary symmetries. Important physical examples are afforded by noninteracting quasiparticles in disordered metals and superconductors, and by relativistic fermions in random gauge field backgrounds. The primary data of the classification are a Nambu space of fermionic field operators which carry a representation of some symmetry group. Our approach is to eliminate all of the unitary symmetries from the picture by transferring to an irreducible block of equivariant homomorphisms. After reduction, the block data specifying a linear space of symmetry-compatible Hamiltonians consist of a basic vector space V , a space of endomorphisms in End(V ⊕V ∗), a bilinear form on V ⊕V ∗ which is either symmetric or alternating, and one or two antiunitary symmetries that may mix V with V ∗. Every such set of block data is shown to determine an irreducible classical compact symmetric space. Conversely, every irreducible classical compact symmetric space occurs in this way. This proves the correspondence between symmetry classes and symmetric spaces conjectured some time ago.