Legumes evolved LysM receptors for recognition of rhizobial Nod factors and initiation of signalling pathways for nodule organogenesis and infection. Intracellularly hosted bacteria are supplied with carbon resources in exchange for fixed nitrogen. Nod factor recognition is crucial for initial signalling, but is reiterated in growing roots initiating novel symbiotic events, and in developing primordia until symbiosis is well-established. Understanding how this signalling coordinates the entire process from cellular to plant level is key for de novo engineering in non-legumes and for improved efficiency in legumes. Here we discuss how recent studies bring new insights into molecular determinants of specificity and sensitivity in Nod factor signalling in legumes, and present some of the unknowns and challenges for engineering.