The current status of research on boron–carbon–nitrogen (B–C–N) and boron nitride (BN) nanotubes is presented. The latest achievements in syntheses, analyses and property measurements of these nanoscale tubular architectures are reviewed. The characteristic features of B–C–N and BN nanotubes, compared with conventional C nanotubes, are paid special attention. In particular, the latest breakthroughs in the chemical vapour deposition synthesis of BN nanotubes and an insight into their unique structures are highlighted. A wide range of potential applications is also envisaged, based on the recent progress, which includes pioneering results in BN nanocable fabrication, gas adsorption, electron transport and field emission measurements.