RNAi refers to several different types of gene silencing mediated by small, dsRNA molecules. Over the course of 20 years, the scientific understanding of RNAi has developed from the initial observation of unexpected expression patterns to a sophisticated understanding of a multi-faceted, evolutionarily conserved network of mechanisms that regulate gene expression in many organisms. It has also been developed as a genetic tool that can be exploited in a wide range of species. Because transgene-induced RNAi has been effective at silencing one or more genes in a wide range of plants, this technology also bears potential as a powerful functional genomics tool across the plant kingdom. Transgene-induced RNAi has indeed been shown to be an effective mechanism for silencing many genes in many organisms, but the results from multiple projects which attempted to exploit RNAi on a genome-wide scale suggest that there is a great deal of variation in the silencing efficacy between transgenic events, silencing targets and silencing-induced phenotype. The results from these projects indicate several important variables that should be considered in experimental design prior to the initiation of functional genomics efforts based on RNAi silencing. In recent years, alternative strategies have been developed for targeted gene silencing, and a combination of approaches may also enhance the use of targeted gene silencing for functional genomics.