Many applications ranging from biomedical to aerospace have been proposed for the use of shape memory polymers (SMPs). To optimize SMPs properties for appropriately targeting such wide-spreading application requirements, it becomes necessary to understand the structure/property relationships in SMPs. The literature was reviewed and the recent advances made in the development of SMPs were determined to establish guidelines for composition and structure considerations for designing SMPs with targeted chemical, physical, and shape memory (SM) properties. It was concluded that covalently crosslinked glassy thermosets appear to be better SMP candidates because of their intrinsically higher modulus, greater thermal and chemical stability, higher shape fixity and recovery, and possibly their longer cycle life. However, material design allows for reaching comparable or better properties for all classes of SMPs. This emphasizes that optimization of SMPs requires application-specific molecular, structural, and geometrical design. Current techniques for improving stress recovery and cycle time, which compared to shape memory alloys are the two main limitations of SMPs, are extensively discussed. Understanding the relationships between the composition and structure of an SMP and its SM properties as well as its limitations enables one to better define the development areas for high performance SMPs. POLYM. ENG. SCI., 2008. © 2008 Society of Plastics Engineers