To ferment, items are often salted or submerged in a salty brine and left to sit for anywhere from a few days to a few weeks or longer. The salt creates an inhospitable environment for bad microbes, seasons the pickles, and gives them their texture. This all happens through diffusion. Since the salt in pickle brine is more concentrated than that inside the cells of the vegetable, the small salt molecules diffuse into the cells and cause their walls to soften.
Larger flavor molecules from other ingredients slowly make their way into the vegetables as well. As the cell walls continue to soften, it becomes easier for the flavors to move into the pickles. Using canning and pickling salt rather than regular table salt is important, as table salt contains additives that give the brine unwanted chemical flavors.
In addition to disliking salt, bad microbes are also vulnerable to highly acidic environments. Whereas vinegar pickles simply use vinegar as the acidic means to produce quick pickles, fermented pickles rely on the help of the good bacteria and storage conditions to create the proper acidic environment.