In this paper, distributed leader–follower control algorithms are presented for linear multi-agent systems based on output regulation theory and internal model principle. By treating a leader to be followed as an exosystem, the proposed framework can be used to generalize existing multi-agent coordination solutions to allow the identical agents to track an active leader with different dynamics and unmeasurable variables. Moreover, the obtained results for multi-agent coordination control are an extension of previous work on centralized and decentralized output regulation to a distributed control context. Necessary and sufficient conditions for the distributed output regulation problem are given. Finally, distributed output regulation of some classes of multi-agent systems with switching interconnection topologies are discussed via both static and dynamic feedback. Copyright © 2011 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.