The developmental pathways that lead to the production of antigen-presenting dendritic cells (DCs) are beginning to be understood. These are the last of the pathways of haematopoiesis to be mapped. The existence of many specialized subtypes of DC has complicated this endeavour, as has the need to distinguish the DCs formed in steady state from those produced during an inflammatory response. Here we review studies that lead to the concept that different types of DC develop through different branches of haematopoietic pathways that involve different immediate precursor cells. Furthermore, these studies show that many individual tissues generate their own DCs locally, from a reservoir of immediate DC precursors, rather than depending on a continuous flux of DCs from the bone marrow.