Despite many years of research, human DNA vaccines have yet to fulfill their early promise. Over the past 15 years, multiple generations of DNA vaccines have been developed and tested in preclinical models for prophylactic and therapeutic applications in the areas of infectious disease and cancer, but have failed in the clinic. Thus, while DNA vaccines have achieved successful licensure for veterinary applications, their poor immunogenicity in humans when compared with traditional protein-based vaccines has hindered their progress. Many strategies have been attempted to improve DNA vaccine potency including use of more efficient promoters and codon optimization, addition of traditional or genetic adjuvants, electroporation, intradermal delivery and various prime-boost strategies. This review summarizes these advances in DNA vaccine technologies and attempts to answer the question of when DNA vaccines might eventually be licensed for human use.