The loss of carbon from roots (rhizodeposition) and the consequent proliferation of microorganisms in the surrounding soil, coupled with the physical presence of a root and processes associated with nutrient uptake, gives rise to a unique zone of soil called the rhizosphere. In this review, we bring together evidence to show that roots can directly regulate most aspects of rhizosphere C flow either by regulating the exudation process itself or by directly regulating the recapture of exudates from soil. Root exudates have been hypothesized to be involved in the enhanced mobilization and acquisition of many nutrients from soil or the external detoxification of metals. With few exceptions, there is little mechanistic evidence from soil-based systems to support these propositions. We conclude that much more integrated work in realistic systems is required to quantify the functional significance of these processes in the field. We need to further unravel the complexities of the rhizosphere in order to fully engage with key scientific ideas such as the development of sustainable agricultural systems and the response of ecosystems to climate change.