Understanding the evolutionary origins of segmented body plans in the metazoa has been a long-standing fascination for scientists. Competing hypotheses explaining the presence of distinct segmented taxa range from the suggestion that all segmentation in the metazoa is homologous to the proposal that segmentation arose independently many times, even within an individual clade or species. A major new source of information regarding the extent of homology vs. homoplasy of segmentation in recent years has been an examination of the extent to which molecular mechanisms underlying the segmentation process are conserved, the rationale being that a shared history will be apparent by the presence of common molecular components of a developmental program that give rise to a segmented body plan. There has been substantial progress recently in understanding the molecular mechanisms underlying the segmentation process in many groups, specifically within the three overtly segmented phyla: Annelida, Arthropoda and Chordata. This review will discuss what we currently know about the segmentation process in each group and how our understanding of the development of segmented structures in distinct taxa have influenced the hypotheses explaining the presence of a segmented body plan in the metazoa.