The light-driven proton pump bacteriorhodopsin (BR) from the extreme halophilic archaeon Halobacterium salinarum is a retinal-binding protein, which forms highly ordered and thermally stable 2D crystals in native membranes (termed purple membranes). BR and purple membranes (PMs) have been and are still being intensively studied by numerous researchers from different scientific disciplines. Furthermore, PMs are being successfully used in new, emerging technologies such as bioelectronics and bionanotechnology. Most published studies used the wild-type form of BR, because of the intrinsic difficulty to produce genetically modified versions in purple membranes homologously. However, modification and engineering is crucial for studies in basic research and, in particular, to tailor BR for specific applications in applied sciences. We present an extensive and detailed protocol ranging from the genetic modification and cultivation of H. salinarum to the isolation, and biochemical, biophysical and functional characterization of BR and purple membranes. Pitfalls and problems of the homologous expression of BR versions in H. salinarum are discussed and possible solutions presented. The protocol is intended to facilitate the access to genetically modified BR versions for researchers of different scientific disciplines, thus increasing the application of this versatile biomaterial.