Understanding the molecular basis of lymphocyte homing to lymphoid organs was originally a problem of concern only to immunologists. With the discovery of L-selectin and its ligands, interested scientists have expanded to include glycobiologists, immunopathologists, cancer biologists, and developmental biologists. Going beyond its first discovered role in homing to lymph nodes, the L-selectin system is implicated in such diverse processes as inflammatory leukocyte trafficking in both acute and chronic settings, hematogenous metastasis of carcinoma cells, effector mechanisms for inflammatory demyelination of axons, and implantation of the early mammalian embryo. This review focuses on the ligands for L-selectin that are found on vascular endothelium, leukocytes, carcinoma cells, and at various extravascular sites. The discovery of selectins and their ligands has validated the long-predicted hypothesis that carbohydrate-directed cell adhesion is relevant in eukaryotic systems. Emphasis will be given to the carbohydrate and sulfation modifications of the ligands, which enable recognition by L-selectin. The rapid "homing" of labeled cells into the lymph nodes presumably had its basis in the special affinity of small lymphocytes for the endothelium of the postcapillary venules.