The new type reached the French front in March, 1916 and quickly began to replace the smaller Nieuport 11 and 16 fighters in French service. The N17 went into service with Escadrille N.57 on May 2, 1916. The Nieuport, along with the British DH.2, was crucial in ending the reign of the Fokker Eindecker - the so-called 'Fokker scourge' period, proving a severe shock to German aviation high command. Most French aces used the nimble Nieuport during their career including Georges Guynemer, Charles Nungesser, Maurice Boyau, Armand Pinsard, Réné Dorne, Gabriel Guerin, Alfred Duellin and Jean Navarre. The type was also used by American volunteers of the Escadrille Lafayette when they replaced their earlier Nieuports. During part of 1916 the Nieuport 17 equipped every fighter squadron of the Aéronautique Militaire. Charles Nungesser scored most of his victories while flying Nieuports.
It was also ordered by the Royal Flying Corps and Royal Naval Air Service, as it was superior to any British fighter available at that time. Historians have found it difficult to identify how many of each Nieuport type were operated by the RFC as its surviving records tend to only specify 'Nieuport scout'. An unknown proportion of various Nieuport models including the N. 16, 17 and 24 were issued to squadrons. Individual Nieuport types are best identified from surviving photos rather than archives. British squadrons known to have used the type include Nos 1, 29, 32, 40 and 60 of the Royal Flying Corps and No 6 of the Royal Naval Air Service which was attached to the RFC. During the Battle of Arras much use was made of British Nieuports in balloon-busting attacks to prevent enemy artillery spotting. No 40 Squadron experimented with low level hedge-hopping attacks to reach the balloons while Nieuports of No 60 Squadron co-operated with F.E. 2bs of No 11 Squadron to carry out massed strafing attacks on German infantry entrenched on both sides of the River Scarpe.
The Germans supplied captured examples to several of their own aircraft manufacturers for them to copy. This resulted in the Siemens-Schuckert D.I which, apart from the engine installation, was a close copy and actually went into production, although in the event it was not widely used operationally on the Western Front. German technicians also salvaged many engines from crashed Nieuports and re-used them in German machines including Fokker Dr1 triplanes. Albatros Werke adopted the Nieuport's sesquiplane wing structure for the Albatros D.III and D.V: called 'V-strutters' by the RFC to distinguish them from the earlier Albatros D.II. The German machines were heavier than the Nieuport and this aggravated the tendency to wing failures which the Nieuports had already experienced. Despite experimenting with extra bracing the Germans never fully solved the problem. Several pilots were killed while others experienced terrifying crash landings from altitude with a lower wing cracked or missing.
By mid-1917, the Nieuport was outclassed by the firepower and speed of the twin-gun latest German fighters, being one of the types suffering heavy casualties during Bloody April. An up-rated engine resulted in the Nieuport 17bis. Newer models (the Nieuport 24 and the 27) were brought out in an attempt to retain the type's ascendency. However, the powerful SPAD S.VII had already replaced the Nieuport fighters in many French squadrons by mid-1917. The British persisted with Nieuports a little longer, not replacing their last Nieuport 24bis until early 1918. The SPAD was powered by a water-cooled inline engine and proved stronger in a dive as it had a more conventional wing structure.
Many British Empire air aces flew Nieuport fighters, including Canadian ace W. A. Bishop, who received a Victoria Cross while flying it, and most famously of all, Albert Ball, V.C. who often hunted alone in his Nieuport. 'Mick' Mannock VC flew Nieuports early in his career with No 40 Squadron. His VC award reflected his whole combat career - including his time on Nieuports.
Italian aces such as Francesco Baracca, Silvio Scaroni and Pier Piccio all achieved victories while flying Nieuport fighters. In Belgium the 1st and 5th Belgian escadrilles were equipped with the Nieuport 17. Belgian aces flying the type included Andre de Meulemeester, Edmund Thieffry, Francis Jaquet and Jean Olieslagers. Imperial Russian forces operated the Nieuport. It is believed that the Russian ace Kazakov flew a Nieuport which was still marked with French-type roundels.
Like the other Nieuport types, the 17 was used as an advanced trainer for prospective fighter pilots after its operational days were over. The American Expeditionary Forces purchased 75 Nieuport 17s for training. The Nieuport 23 was a development of the 17. Charles Nungesser's own Nieuport 17bis was later converted to Nieuport 23 standard.