We survey the evidence for L-glutamate's role as the primary excitatory neurotransmitter of vertebrate retinas. The physiological and molecular properties of glutamate receptors in the retina are reviewed in relation to what has been learned from studies of glutamate function in other brain areas and in expression systems. We have focused on (a) the evidence for the presence of L-glutamate in retinal neurons, (b) the processes by which glutamate is released, (c) the presence and function of ionotropic receptors for L-glutamate in retinal neurons, (d) the presence and function of metabotropic receptors for L-glutamate in retinal neurons, and (e) the variety and distribution of glutamate transporters in the vertebrate retina. Modulatory pathways which influence glutamate release and the behavior of its receptors are described. Emphasis has been placed on the cellular mechanisms of glutamate-mediated neurotransmission in relation to the encoding of visual information by retinal circuits.