The role of defects as essential entities in semiconductor materials is reviewed. Early experiments with semiconductors were hampered by the extreme sensitivity of the electronic properties to minute concentrations of impurities. Semiconductors were viewed as a family of solids with irreproducible properties. Scientific efforts overcame this idiosyncrasy and turned the art of impurity doping into today's exceedingly useful and reproducible technology that is used to control precisely electrical conductivity, composition, and minority-carrier lifetimes over wide ranges. Native defects such as vacancies and self-interstitials control basic processes, foremost self- and dopant diffusion. The structural properties of dislocations and higher dimensional defects have been studied with atomic resolution, but a thorough theoretical understanding of their electronic properties is incomplete. Reactions between defects within the host lattices are increasingly better understood and are used for gettering and electrical passivation of unwanted impurities. Metastable defects such as DX centers and the EL2-related arsenic antisite are briefly discussed. The recent development of isotopically controlled semiconductors has created new research opportunities in this field.