DNA barcoding and metabarcoding methods have been invaluable in the study of interactions between host organisms and their symbiotic communities. Barcodes can help identify individual symbionts that are difficult to distinguish using morphological characters, and provide a way to classify undescribed species. Entire symbiont communities can be characterized rapidly using barcoding and especially metabarcoding methods, which is often crucial for isolating ecological signal from the substantial variation among individual hosts. Furthermore, barcodes allow the evolutionary histories of symbionts and their hosts to be assessed simultaneously and in reference to one another. Here, we describe three projects illustrating the utility of barcodes for studying symbiotic interactions: first, we consider communities of arthropods found in the ant-occupied domatia of the East African ant-plant Vachellia (Acacia) drepanolobium; second, we examine communities of arthropod and protozoan inquilines in three species of Nepenthes pitcher plant in South East Asia; third, we investigate communities of gut bacteria of South American ants in the genus Cephalotes Advances in sequencing and computation, and greater database connectivity, will continue to expand the utility of barcoding methods for the study of species interactions, especially if barcoding can be approached flexibly by making use of alternative genetic loci, metagenomes and whole-genome data.This article is part of the themed issue 'From DNA barcodes to biomes'.