Over the past two decades, the small soil nematode Caenorhabditis elegans has become established as a major model system for the study of a great variety of problems in biology and medicine. One of its most significant advantages is its simplicity, both in anatomy and in genomic organization. The entire haploid genetic content amounts to 100 million base pairs of DNA, about 1/30 the size of the human value. As a result, C. elegans has also provided a pilot system for the construction of physical maps of larger animal and plant genomes, and subsequently for the complete sequencing of those genomes. By mid-1995, approximately one-fifth of the complete DNA sequence of this animal had been determined. Caenorhabditis elegans provides a test bed not only for the development and application of mapping and sequencing technologies, but also for the interpretation and use of complete sequence information. This article reviews the progress so far toward a realizable goal--the total description of the genome of a simple animal.