The reactions of metal layers with their silicon substrates resulting in the formation of various silicides are considered generally not only as phenomena common to all diffusion couples where new phases are formed, but also as typical of all transitions from two to three phases. The conditions under which such transitions will display the same characteristics as encountered in the usual one-to-two phase transitions (condensation, crystallization, boiling) are analyzed by comparison to the classical theory of nucleation. Because of the lack of knowledge about the exact values of the relevant parameters, the discussion is carried out mostly in descriptive thermodynamic terms. Although nucleation effects are analyzed in general terms, the main focus of attention is a class of reactions where nucleation dominates the formation of a new phase; a salient feature of these reactions is the absence of any equilibrium temperature, although the nucleation temperatures are relatively well defined within narrow limits. Nucleation effects are correlated to such material characteristics as the stability of the nucleated phases, and to such kinetic characteristics as the sequence of phase formation. The modification of the energy levels of the different phases brought about by stress, ion bombardment, or the replacement of usual phases by metastable ones, are considered with respect to their effect on nucleation processes. The nearly total absence of literature references to nucleation in metal-metal diffusion couples is discussed with respect to some specific aspects of the metal-silicon reactions.