Recent progress in chemical vapour deposition and aerosol synthesis of single-walled carbon nanotubes (SWCNTs) is reviewed with an emphasis on the role of metal nanoparticles in the processes. The effect of the various parameters on SWCNT formation is reported on the basis of published experiments. Evolution of the catalyst particle size distribution due to collision, sintering and evaporation of metal during SWCNT synthesis is discussed. The active catalyst has been demonstrated to be in a reduced metal form by comparison of the experimental data and calculations regarding the equilibrium concentration of carbon and oxygen in iron. Also the effect of the catalyst particle size on melting temperature and carbon solubility in metal is discussed. The stability of different carbon precursors (hydrocarbons and carbon monoxide) is considered thermodynamically. Furthermore, estimation of the maximum length of 1 and 2.5 nm diameter SWCNTs as a function of carbon solubility is conducted to determine whether carbon dissolution and precipitation are simultaneous or subsequent process steps.