Long-term observations of reactive gases in the troposphere are important for understanding trace gas cycles and the oxidation capacity of the atmosphere, assessing impacts of emission changes, verifying numerical model simulations, and quantifying the interactions between short-lived compounds and climate change. The World Meteorological Organization’s (WMO) Global Atmosphere Watch (GAW) program coordinates a global network of surface stations some of which have measured reactive gases for more than 40 years. Gas species included under this umbrella are ozone, carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides, and volatile organic compounds (VOCs). There are many challenges involved in setting-up and maintaining such a network over many decades and to ensure that data are of high quality, regularly updated and made easily accessible to users. This overview describes the GAW surface station network of reactive gases, its unique quality management framework, and discusses the data that are available from the central archive. Highlights of data use from the published literature are reviewed, and a brief outlook into the future of GAW is given. This manuscript constitutes the overview of a special feature on GAW reactive gases observations with individual papers reporting on research and data analysis of particular substances being covered by the program.