Ribosome display is an in vitro evolution technology for proteins. It is based on in vitro translation, but prevents the newly synthesized protein and the mRNA encoding it from leaving the ribosome. It thereby couples phenotype and genotype. Since no cells need to be transformed, very large libraries can be used directly in selections, and the in vitro amplification provides a very convenient integration of random mutagenesis that can be incorporated into the procedure. This review highlights concepts, mechanisms, and different variations of ribosome display and compares it to related methods. Applications of ribosome display are summarized, e.g., the directed evolution of proteins for higher binding affinity, for higher stability or other improved biophysical parameters and enzymatic properties. Ribosome display has developed into a robust technology used in academia and industry alike, and it has made the cell-free Darwinian evolution of proteins over multiple generations a reality.