In this study the modelling of aeolian dunes is treated from the background of the physical processes that form them. The paper concentrates on two-dimensional modelling, which can be applied to transverse and barchan dunes. The basic assumptions and equations are discussed and three models are presented: (a) a kinematic model which is based on a linear variation of the sediment transport with the topographic height; (b) an analytical model based on a boundary-layer model of the wind velocity and Bagnold's linearized sediment transport formula; (c) a generalization of this analytical model in a computer program which includes a simple routine for simulating the redistribution of sediment through avalanching. The relative importance of the simplifications is considered and indications are given for the practical applications of these three models in field studies.