Uromodulin (also known as Tamm-Horsfall protein) is exclusively produced in the kidney and is the most abundant protein in normal urine. The function of uromodulin remains elusive, but the available data suggest that this protein might regulate salt transport, protect against urinary tract infection and kidney stones, and have roles in kidney injury and innate immunity. Interest in uromodulin was boosted by genetic studies that reported involvement of the UMOD gene, which encodes uromodulin, in a spectrum of rare and common kidney diseases. Rare mutations in UMOD cause autosomal dominant tubulointerstitial kidney disease (ADTKD), which leads to chronic kidney disease (CKD). Moreover, genome-wide association studies have identified common variants in UMOD that are strongly associated with risk of CKD and also with hypertension and kidney stones in the general population. These findings have opened up a new field of kidney research. In this Review we summarize biochemical, physiological, genetic and pathological insights into the roles of uromodulin; the mechanisms by which UMOD mutations cause ADTKD, and the association of common UMOD variants with complex disorders.