Until recently, more than 30 different definitions of acute renal failure (ARF) had been used in the literature. This lack of a common reference point created confusion and made comparisons difficult. It also led to strong advocacy of a consensus definition. In response to the need for a common definition and classification of ARF, the Acute Dialysis Quality Initiative (ADQI) group of experts developed and published a consensus definition of ARF. This definition goes under the acronym of RIFLE to indicate that it classifies patients with renal dysfunction according to the degree of impairment into patients at risk (R), with injury (I), with failure (F), with sustained loss (L) and with end-stage (E) status in relation to their renal function. This editorial aims to summarize and interpret recent findings concerning the application of the RIFLE criteria to the assessment of the epidemiology and the prediction of the outcome of ARF.