The endoplasmic reticulum (ER) in animal cells is an extensive, morphologically continuous network of membrane tubules and flattened cisternae. The ER is a multifunctional organelle; the synthesis of membrane lipids, membrane and secretory proteins, and the regulation of intracellular calcium are prominent among its array of functions. Many of these functions are not homogeneously distributed throughout the ER but rather are confined to distinct ER subregions or domains. This review describes the structural and functional organization of the ER and highlights the dynamic properties of the ER network and the mechanisms that support the positioning of ER membranes within the cell. Furthermore, we outline processes involved in the establishment and maintenance of an anisotropic distribution of ER-resident proteins and, thus, in the organization of the ER into functionally and morphologically different subregions.