The potential of the vertebrate limb as a model system to study developmental mechanisms is particularly well illustrated by the analysis of the Hox gene network. These genes are probably involved in the establishment of patterns encoding positional information. Their functional organisation during both limb and trunk development are very similar and seem to involve the progressive activation in time, along the chromosome, of a battery of genes whose products could differentially instruct those cells where they are expressed. This process may be common to all organisms that develop according to an anterior-posterior morphogenetic progression. The possible linkage of this system to a particular mechanism of segmentation as well as its phylogenetic implications are discussed.