This review deals with the early development of the gut. It draws largely on information provided from the study of avian embryos. Evidence that concerns the early determination of the regional fate of the endoderm and mesoderm of the gut is reviewed. Gut endoderm can undergo a limited degree of differentiation from a remarkably early age when cultured in the absence of mesoderm and there is evidence that points to the establishment of a pre-pattern in the early mesoderm before the genes responsible for patterning in gut are active. Initially, at least at cranial levels, those parts of the mesoderm and endoderm that are in contact are not those parts that will ultimately be in apposition; the consequence of this for any signalling between these layers is considered. In the light of the above information, the probable role of mesenchyme in gut development is re-examined.