Star formation is a fundamental process in the universe, shaping the structure of our and other galaxies. The birth of stars is triggered by the gravitational collapse and fragmentation of cold molecular clouds. The talk will summarize the general physical principles of the star formation process. It will discuss global properties such as the star formation efficiency and the initial mass function. In addition, it will also demonstrate the power of adaptive optics in revealing the structure of star-forming regions and will show new exciting results obtained with the Herschel Space Observatory.