Molecular phylogeny increasingly supports the understanding of organismal relationships and provides the basis for the classification of microorganisms according to their natural affiliations. Comparative sequence analysis of ribosomal RNAs or the corresponding genes currently is the most widely used approach for the reconstruction of microbial phylogeny. The highly and less conserved primary and higher order structure elements of rRNAs document the history of microbial evolution and are informative for definite phylogenetic levels. An optimal alignment of the primary structures and a careful data selection are prerequisites for reliable phylogenetic conclusions. rRNA based phylogenetic trees can be reconstructed and the significance of their topologies evaluated by applying distance, maximum parsimony and maximum likelihood methods of phylogeny inference in comparison, and by fortuitous or directed resampling of the data set. Phylogenetic trees based on almost equivalent data sets of bacterial 23S and 16S rRNAs are in good agreement and their overall topologies are supported by alternative phylogenetic markers such as elongation factors and ATPase subunits. Besides their phylogenetic information content, the differently conserved primary structure regions of rRNAs provide target sites for specific hybridization probes which have been proven to be powerful tools for the identification of microbes on the basis of their phylogenetic relationships.