The battle between plants and microbes is evolutionarily ancient, highly complex, and often co-dependent. A primary challenge for microbes is to breach the physical barrier of host cell walls whilst avoiding detection by the plant's immune receptors. While some receptors sense conserved microbial features, others monitor physical changes caused by an infection attempt. Detection of microbes leads to activation of appropriate defense responses that then challenge the attack. Plant cell walls are formidable and dynamic barriers. They are constructed primarily of complex carbohydrates joined by numerous distinct connection types, and are subject to extensive post-synthetic modification to suit prevailing local requirements. Multiple changes can be triggered in cell walls in response to microbial attack. Some of these are well described, but many remain obscure. The study of the myriad of subtle processes underlying cell wall modification poses special challenges for plant glycobiology. In this review we describe the major molecular and cellular mechanisms that underlie the roles of cell walls in plant defense against pathogen attack. In so doing, we also highlight some of the challenges inherent in studying these interactions, and briefly describe the analytical potential of molecular probes used in conjunction with carbohydrate microarray technology.