This paper proposes a structure for the diesel combustion process based on a combination of previously published and new results. Processes are analyzed with proven chemical kinetic models and validated with data from production-like direct injection diesel engines. The analysis provides new insight into the ignition and particulate formation processes, which combined with laser diagnostics, delineates the two-stage nature of combustion in diesel engines. Data are presented to quantify events occurring during the ignition and initial combustion processes that form soot precursors. A framework is also proposed for understanding the heat release and emission formation processes.