This guideline, together with its sister guideline on the management of urticaria [Zuberbier T, Asero R, Bindslev-Jensen C, Canonica GW, Church MK, Giménez-Arnau AM et al. EAACI/GA²LEN/EDF/WAO Guideline: Management of urticaria. Allergy, 2009; 64:1427–1443] is the result of a consensus reached during a panel discussion at the 3rd International Consensus Meeting on Urticaria, Urticaria 2008, a joint initiative of the Dermatology Section of the European Academy of Allergology and Clinical Immunology (EAACI), the EU-funded network of excellence, the Global Allergy and Asthma European Network (GA²LEN), the European Dermatology Forum (EDF) and the World Allergy Organization (WAO). Urticaria is a frequent disease. The life-time prevalence for any subtype of urticaria is approximately 20%. Chronic spontaneous urticaria and other chronic forms of urticaria do not only cause a decrease in quality of life, but also affect performance at work and school and, as such, are members of the group of severe allergic diseases. This guideline covers the definition and classification of urticaria, taking into account the recent progress in identifying its causes, eliciting factors, and pathomechanisms. In addition, it outlines evidence-based diagnostic approaches for different subtypes of urticaria. The correct management of urticaria, which is of paramount importance for patients, is very complex and is consequently covered in a separate guideline developed during the same consensus meeting. This guideline was acknowledged and accepted by the European Union of Medical Specialists (UEMS).