Sharp wave ripples (SPW‐Rs) represent the most synchronous population pattern in the mammalian brain. Their excitatory output affects a wide area of the cortex and several subcortical nuclei. SPW‐Rs occur during “off‐line” states of the brain, associated with consummatory behaviors and non‐REM sleep, and are influenced by numerous neurotransmitters and neuromodulators. They arise from the excitatory recurrent system of the CA3 region and the SPW‐induced excitation brings about a fast network oscillation (ripple) in CA1. The spike content of SPW‐Rs is temporally and spatially coordinated by a consortium of interneurons to replay fragments of waking neuronal sequences in a compressed format. SPW‐Rs assist in transferring this compressed hippocampal representation to distributed circuits to support memory consolidation; selective disruption of SPW‐Rs interferes with memory. Recently acquired and pre‐existing information are combined during SPW‐R replay to influence decisions, plan actions and, potentially, allow for creative thoughts. In addition to the widely studied contribution to memory, SPW‐Rs may also affect endocrine function via activation of hypothalamic circuits. Alteration of the physiological mechanisms supporting SPW‐Rs leads to their pathological conversion, “p‐ripples,” which are a marker of epileptogenic tissue and can be observed in rodent models of schizophrenia and Alzheimer's Disease. Mechanisms for SPW‐R genesis and function are discussed in this review. © 2015 The Authors Hippocampus Published by Wiley Periodicals, Inc.