The vertebrate limb is one of the most relevant experimental models for analysing cell-cell signalling during patterning of embryonic fields and organogenesis. Recently, the combination of molecular and genetic studies with experimental manipulation of developing limb buds has significantly advanced our understanding of the complex molecular interactions co-ordinating limb bud outgrowth and patterning. Some of these studies have shown that there is a need to revise some of the textbook views of vertebrate limb development. In this review, we discuss how signalling by the polarizing region is established and how limb bud morphogenesis is controlled by both long-range and signal relay mechanisms. We also discuss recent results showing that differential mesenchymal responsiveness to SHH signalling is established prior to its expression by the polarizing region.