GOMOS on ENVISAT (launched in February, 2002) is the first space instrument dedicated to the study of the atmosphere of the Earth by the technique of stellar occultations (Global Ozone Monitoring by Occultation of Stars). Its polar orbit makes good latitude coverage possible. Because it is self-calibrating, it is particularly well adapted to long time trend monitoring of stratospheric species. With 4 spectrometers, the wavelength coverage of 248 nm to 942 nm enables monitoring ozone, H2O, NO2, NO3, air density, aerosol extinction, and O2. Two additional fast photometers (with 1 kHz sampling rate) enable the correction of the effects of scintillations, as well as the study of the structure of air density irregularities resulting from gravity waves and turbulence. A high vertical resolution profile of the temperature may also be obtained from the time delay between the red and the blue photometer. Noctilucent clouds (Polar Mesospheric Clouds, PMC) are routinely observed in both polar summers and global observations of OClO and sodium are achieved. The instrument configuration, dictated by the scientific objectives' rationale and technical constraints, is described, together with the typical operations along one orbit, along with the statistics from over 6 years of operation. Typical atmospheric transmission spectra are presented and some retrieval difficulties are discussed, in particular for O2 and H2O. An overview is presented of a number of scientific results already published or found in more detail as companion papers in the same ACP GOMOS special issue. This paper is particularly intended to provide an incentive for the exploitation of GOMOS data available to the whole scientific community in the ESA data archive, and to help GOMOS data users to better understand the instrument, its capabilities and the quality of its measurements, thus leading to an increase in the scientific return.