Owing to its high biodegradability, and nontoxicity and antimicrobial properties, chitosan is widely-used as an antimicrobial agent either alone or blended with other natural polymers. To broaden chitosan's antimicrobial applicability, comprehensive knowledge of its activity is necessary. The paper reviews the current trend of investigation on antimicrobial activities of chitosan and its mode of action. Chitosan-mediated inhibition is affected by several factors can be classified into four types as intrinsic, environmental, microorganism and physical state, according to their respective roles. In this review, different physical states are comparatively discussed. Mode of antimicrobial action is discussed in parts of the active compound (chitosan) and the target (microorganisms) collectively and independently in same complex. Finally, the general antimicrobial applications of chitosan and perspectives about future studies in this field are considered. Copyright © 2010 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.