The discovery that plants recognize and degrade invading viral RNA caused a paradigm shift in our understanding of viral/host interactions. Combined with the discovery that plants cosuppress their own genes if they are transformed with homologous transgenes, new models for both plant intercellular communication and viral defense have emerged. Plant biologists adapted homology-based defense mechanisms triggered by incoming viruses to target individual genes for silencing in a process called virus-induced gene silencing (VIGS). Both VIGS- and dsRNA-containing transformation cassettes are increasingly being used for reverse genetics as part of an integrated approach to determining gene function. Virus-derived vectors silence gene expression without transformation and selection. However, because viruses also alter gene expression in their host, the process of VIGS must be understood. This review examines how DNA and RNA viruses have been modified to silence plant gene expression. I discuss advantages and disadvantages of VIGS in determining gene function and guidelines for the safe use of viral vectors.