DNA double strand breaks (DSBs), induced by ionizing radiation (IR) and endogenous stress including replication failure, are the most cytotoxic form of DNA damage. In human cells, most IR-induced DSBs are repaired by the nonhomologous end joining (NHEJ) pathway. One of the most critical steps in NHEJ is ligation of DNA ends by DNA ligase IV (LIG4), which interacts with, and is stabilized by, the scaffolding protein X-ray cross-complementing gene 4 (XRCC4). XRCC4 also interacts with XRCC4-like factor (XLF, also called Cernunnos); yet, XLF has been one of the least mechanistically understood proteins and precisely how XLF functions in NHEJ has been enigmatic. Here, we examine current combined structural and mutational findings that uncover integrated functions of XRCC4 and XLF and reveal their interactions to form long, helical protein filaments suitable to protect and align DSB ends. XLF-XRCC4 provides a global structural scaffold for ligating DSBs without requiring long DNA ends, thus ensuring accurate and efficient ligation and repair. The assembly of these XRCC4-XLF filaments, providing both DNA end protection and alignment, may commit cells to NHEJ with general biological implications for NHEJ and DSB repair processes and their links to cancer predispositions and interventions.