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A shell and tube heat exchanger is a class of heat exchanger designs. It is the most common type of heat exchanger in oil refineries and other large chemical processes, and is suited for higher-pressure applications. As its name implies, this type of heat exchanger consists of a shell (a large pressure vessel) with a bundle of tubes inside it. One fluid runs through the tubes, and another fluid flows over the tubes (through the shell) to transfer heat between the two fluids. The set of tubes is called a tube bundle, and may be composed of several types of tubes: plain, longitudinally finned, etc.

There can be many variations on the shell and tube design. Typically, the ends of each tube are connected to plenums (sometimes called water boxes) through holes in tubesheets. The tubes may be straight or bent in the shape of a U, called U-tubes.

In nuclear power plants called pressurized water reactors, large heat exchangers called steam generators are two-phase, shell-and-tube heat exchangers which typically have U-tubes. They are used to boil water recycled from a surface condenser into steam to drive a turbine to produce power. Most shell-and-tube heat exchangers are either 1, 2, or 4 pass designs on the tube side. This refers to the number of times the fluid in the tubes passes through the fluid in the shell. In a single pass heat exchanger, the fluid goes in one end of each tube and out the other.

Surface condensers in power plants are often 1-pass straight-tube heat exchangers (see Surface condenser for diagram). Two and four pass designs are common because the fluid can enter and exit on the same side. This makes construction much simpler.