Available evidence suggests that there are at least two locations for dormancy mechanisms in primary dormant seeds: mechanisms based within the embryo covering structures, and mechanisms based within the embryo. Mechanisms within the covering structures may involve mechanical, permeability and chemical barriers to germination. Mechanisms within the embryo may involve the expression of certain genes, levels of certain plant growth regulators, the activity of important respiratory pathways or the mobilisation and utilisation of food reserves. In addition, some embryos may be too immature to germinate immediately and must undergo a further growth phase before germination is possible. An individual species could have one or several of these various dormancy mechanisms and these mechanisms need to be understood when selecting treatments to overcome dormancy. The way in which certain dormancy breaking agents are thought to work is discussed and practical applications of such agents in field situations are explained.