Five cases diagnosed as extraosseous Ewing's sarcoma (EES) during a 15-year period, and the relevant literature, were reviewed. The diagnosis in these cases was difficult to confirm, mainly because the distinction between the osseous form of Ewing's sarcoma (OES) and either periosteal reactions or direct tumour invasion into adjacent bone by EES was often unclear. The literature suggests that other authors have also encountered difficulties. The authors believe that many cases reported as EES are likely to have been OES. This distinction has some importance, as the two conditions are usually treated in differing ways. The following criteria are proposed for the diagnosis of primary EES: (i) no evidence of bony involvement on magnetic resonance imaging; (ii) no evidence of increased uptake in bone or periosteum adjacent to the tumour on static isotope bone scan images; (iii) a small round cell tumour with no differentiating features on light microscopy, immunochemistry or electron microscopy; and (iv) demonstration of cytoplasmic glycogen.