With the discovery of MCM-41 by Mobil researchers in 1992 the journey of the research on mesoporous materials started and in the 21st century this area of scientific investigation have extended into numerous branches, many of which contribute significantly in emerging areas like catalysis, energy, environment and biomedical research. As a consequence thousands of publications came out in large varieties of national and international journals. In this review, we have tried to summarize the published works on various synthetic pathways and formation mechanisms of different mesoporous materials viz. inorganic, organic–inorganic hybrid and purely organic solids via soft templating pathways. Generation of nanoscale porosity in a solid material usually requires participation of organic template (more specifically surfactants and their supramolecular assemblies) called structure-directing agent (SDA) in the bottom-up chemical reaction process. Different techniques employed for the syntheses of inorganic mesoporous solids, like silicas, metal doped silicas, transition and non-transition metal oxides, mixed oxides, metallophosphates, organic–inorganic hybrids as well as purely organic mesoporous materials like carbons, polymers etc. using surfactants are depicted schematically and elaborately in this paper. Moreover, some of the frontline applications of these mesoporous solids, which are directly related to their functionality, composition and surface properties are discussed at the appropriate places.