The vascular system has the critical function of supplying tissues with nutrients and clearing waste products. To accomplish these goals, the vasculature must be sufficiently permeable to allow the free, bidirectional passage of small molecules and gases and, to a lesser extent, of plasma proteins. Physiologists and many vascular biologists differ as to the definition of vascular permeability and the proper methodology for its measurement. We review these conflicting views, finding that both provide useful but complementary information. Vascular permeability by any measure is dramatically increased in acute and chronic inflammation, cancer, and wound healing. This hyperpermeability is mediated by acute or chronic exposure to vascular permeabilizing agents, particularly vascular permeability factor/vascular endothelial growth factor (VPF/VEGF, VEGF-A). We demonstrate that three distinctly different types of vascular permeability can be distinguished, based on the different types of microvessels involved, the composition of the extravasate, and the anatomic pathways by which molecules of different size cross-vascular endothelium. These are the basal vascular permeability (BVP) of normal tissues, the acute vascular hyperpermeability (AVH) that occurs in response to a single, brief exposure to VEGF-A or other vascular permeabilizing agents, and the chronic vascular hyperpermeability (CVH) that characterizes pathological angiogenesis. Finally, we list the numerous (at least 25) gene products that different authors have found to affect vascular permeability in variously engineered mice and classify them with respect to their participation, as far as possible, in BVP, AVH and CVH. Further work will be required to elucidate the signaling pathways by which each of these molecules, and others likely to be discovered, mediate the different types of vascular permeability.