RNA has many functions in addition to being a simple messenger between the genome and the proteome. Over two decades, several classes of small noncoding RNAs c. 21 nucleotides (nt) long have been uncovered in eukaryotic genomes, which appear to play a central role in diverse and fundamental processes. In plants, small RNA-based mechanisms are involved in genome stability, gene expression and defense. Many of the discoveries in this new "small RNA world" were made by plant biologists. Here, we discuss the three major classes of small RNAs that are found in the plant kingdom, namely small interfering RNAs, microRNAs, and the recently discovered trans-acting small interfering RNAs. Recent results shed light on the identification, integration and specialization of the different components (Dicer-like, Argonaute, and others) involved in the biogenesis of the different classes of small RNAs in plants. Owing to the development of better experimental and computational methods, an ever increasing number of small noncoding RNAs are uncovered in different plant genomes. In particular the well-studied microRNAs seem to act as key regulators in several different developmental pathways, with a marked preference for transcription factors as targets. In addition, an increasing amount of data suggest that they also play an important role in other mechanisms, such as response to stress or environmental changes.