Diverse microbial communities of bacteria, archaea, viruses and single-celled eukaryotes have crucial roles in the environment and in human health. However, microbes are frequently difficult to culture in the laboratory, which can confound cataloging of members and understanding of how communities function. High-throughput sequencing technologies and a suite of computational pipelines have been combined into shotgun metagenomics methods that have transformed microbiology. Still, computational approaches to overcome the challenges that affect both assembly-based and mapping-based metagenomic profiling, particularly of high-complexity samples or environments containing organisms with limited similarity to sequenced genomes, are needed. Understanding the functions and characterizing specific strains of these communities offers biotechnological promise in therapeutic discovery and innovative ways to synthesize products using microbial factories and can pinpoint the contributions of microorganisms to planetary, animal and human health.