Siderophores are high-affinity ferric iron chelators biosynthesised and excreted by most microorganisms that play an important role in iron acquisition. Siderophore-mediated scavenging of ferric iron from hosts contributes significantly to the virulence of pathogenic microbes. As a consequence siderophore biosynthesis is an attractive target for chemotherapeutic intervention. Two main pathways for siderophore biosynthesis exist in microbes. One pathway involves nonribosomal peptide synthetase (NRPS) multienzymes while the other is NRPS-independent. The enzymology of NRPS-mediated siderophore biosynthesis has been extensively studied for more than a decade. In contrast, the enzymology of NRPS-independent siderophore (NIS) biosynthesis was overlooked for almost thirty years since the first genetic characterisation of the NIS biosynthetic pathway to aerobactin. However, the past three years have witnessed an explosion of interest in the enzymology of NIS synthetases, the key enzymes in the assembly of siderophores via the NIS pathway. The biochemical characterisation of ten purified recombinant synthetases has been reported since 2007, along with the first structural characterisation of a synthetase by X-ray crystallography in 2009. In this feature article we summarise the recent progress that has been made in understanding the long-overlooked enzymology of NRPS-independent siderophore biosynthesis, highlight important remaining questions, and suggest likely directions for future research.