Archaebacteria (archaea) are comprised of three groups of prokaryotes: extreme halophiles, methanogens and thermoacidophiles (extreme thermophiles). Their membrane phospholipids and glycolipids are derived entirely from a saturated, isopranoid glycerol diether, sn-2,3-diphytanylglycerol ('archaeol') and/or its dimer, dibiphytanyldiglyceroltetraether ('caldarchaeol'). In extreme halophiles, the major phospholipid is the archaeol analogue of phosphatidylglycerolmethylphosphate (PGP-Me); the glycolipids are sulfated and/or unsulfated glycosyl archaeols with diverse carbohydrate structure characteristic of taxons on the generic level. Biosynthesis of these archaeol-derived polar lipids occurs in a multienzyme, membrane-bound system that is absolutely dependent on high salt concentration (4 M). The highly complex biosynthetic pathways involve intermediates containing glycerol ether-linked C20-isoprenyl groups which are reduced to phytanyl groups to give the final saturated polar lipids. In methanogens, polar lipids are derived both from archaeol and caldarchaeol, and thermoacidophiles contain essentially only caldarchaeol-derived polar lipids. The function of these membrane polar lipids in maintaining the stability, fluidity and ionic properties of the cell membrane of extreme halophiles, as well as the evolutionary implications of the archaeol and caldarchaeol-derived structures will be discussed.