Genes contributing to the quantitative variation of a complex crop trait can be numerous. However, using existing approaches, the number of quantitative trait loci (QTL) detected for a trait is limited. Therefore, rather than looking for QTL for a complex trait itself, determining QTL for underlying component traits might give more information. In this study the potential of component analysis in QTL mapping of complex traits was examined using grain yield in spring barley as an example. Grain yield was divided into three components: number of spikes/m2, number of kernels/spike, and 1000-kernel weight. These traits were measured for individuals of a recombinant inbred-line population in field trials conducted over 2 years. By the use of an approximate multiple QTL model, one to eight QTL were detected for each trait in a year. Some QTL were mapped to similar positions in both years. Almost all QTL for yield were found at the position of or in close proximity to QTL for its component traits. A number of QTL for component traits were not detected when yield itself was subjected to QTL analysis. However, relative to the QTL for yield itself, all component-trait QTL did not explain the variation in yield better. The results in relation to the potential of using component analysis in studying complex crop traits are discussed.