Cataclysmic variables are binary stars in which a relatively normal star is transferring mass to its compact companion. This interaction gives rise to a rich range of behaviour, of which the most noticeable are the outbursts that give the class its name. Novae belong to the class, as do the less well known dwarf novae and magnetic systems. Novae draw their energy from nuclear reactions, while dwarf novae rely on gravity to power their smaller eruptions. All the different classes of cataclysmic variable can be accommodated within a single framework and this article will describe the framework, review the properties of the main types of system and discuss models of the outbursts and of the long-term evolution.