Hollow materials with interiors or voids and pores are a class of lightweight nanostructured matters that promise many future technological applications, and they have received significant research attention in recent years. On the basis of well-known physicochemical phenomena and principles, for example, several solution-based protocols have been developed for the general preparation of these complex materials under mild reaction conditions. This article is thus a short introductory review on the synthetic aspects of this field of development. The synthetic methodologies can be broadly divided into three major categories: (i) template-assisted synthesis, (ii) self-assembly with primary building blocks, and (iii) induced matter relocations. In most cases, both synthesis and self-assembly are involved in the above processes. Further combinations of these methodologies appear to be very important, as they will allow one to prepare functional materials at a higher level of complexity and precision. The synthetic strategies are introduced through some simple case studies with schematic illustrations. Salient features of the methods developed have been summarized, and some urgent issues of this field have also been indicated. © 2011 The Royal Society of Chemistry.