The abundance of carbohydrate at the animal cell surface may explain why microbes have selected primarily carbohydrates as essential attachment sites for colonization or infection. Of the various surface glycoconjugates of interest, primary attention has been given to glycolipids, due in part to an efficient binding assay based on a thin-layer chromatogram with separated glycolipids. In this way the general character of carbohydrate recognition by microbes is being mapped. Mainly two examples are briefly described to illustrate some generalizations: lactosylceramide-recognition by several bacteria, and Gal alpha l----4Gal-binding by Escherichia coli and the Shiga toxin. The unique recognition of internally placed sequences, the often low-affinity binding, and the preference of certain sequences before others are interpreted to be of decisive biological value. The binding to internal parts makes it technically possible to approximate the binding epitope on a receptor glycolipid. For this the binding preferences to glycolipids carrying the binding site in different saccharide environments (isoreceptors) are compared with the computer-calculated preferred conformations (definition of steric hindrances to epitope access). Several binding epitopes dissected with this approach have a common surface character: a nonpolar area of ring hydrogens over one or two sugars, surrounded by polar oxygens or amide. This is in agreement with the recent Lemieux concept for antibody-carbohydrate interaction. This information facilitates a rational synthesis of receptor analogues for potential applications. An outline is finally given of an improved general approach for receptor analysis.