The discovery 45 years ago that many Pseudomonas syringae pathovars elicit the hypersensitive response in plant species other than their hosts fostered the use of these bacteria as experimental models. However, the basis for host specificity and the corresponding resistance of nonhosts remain unclear. Pseudomonas syringae is now known to inject into the host cytoplasm, via the type III secretion system, effector proteins that suppress basal innate immunity, but may be recognized by cognate resistance (R) proteins in a second level of defence. The identification and manipulation of complete repertoires of type III effectors have revealed the highly polymorphic nature of effector repertoires and their potential to limit the host range. However, the maintenance of compatible effector repertoires may be driven by adaptations to life in a given plant species involving many factors. Tools are now available to test several hypotheses for the nature and evolution of P. syringae host specificity and nonhost resistance.