Escherichia coli is usually a non-pathogenic member of the human colonic flora. However, certain strains have acquired virulence factors and may cause a variety of infections in humans and in animals. There are three clinical syndromes caused by E. coli: (i) sepsis/meningitis; (ii) urinary tract infection and (iii) diarrhoea. Furthermore the E. coli causing diarrhoea is divided into different ‘pathotypes’ depending on the type of disease, i.e. (i) enterotoxigenic; (ii) enteropathogenic; (iii) enteroinvasive; (iv) enterohaemorrhagic; (v) enteroaggregative and (vi) diffusely adherent. The serotyping of E. coli based on the somatic (O), flagellar (H) and capsular polysaccharide antigens (K) is used in epidemiology. The different antigens may be unique for a particular serogroup or antigenic determinants may be shared, resulting in cross-reactions with other serogroups of E. coli or even with other members of the family Enterobacteriacea. To establish the uniqueness of a particular serogroup or to identify the presence of common epitopes, a database of the structures of O-antigenic polysaccharides has been created. The E. coli database (ECODAB) contains structures, nuclear magnetic resonance chemical shifts and to some extent cross-reactivity relationships. All fields are searchable. A ranking is produced based on similarity, which facilitates rapid identification of strains that are difficult to serotype (if known) based on classical agglutinating methods. In addition, results pertinent to the biosynthesis of the repeating units of O-antigens are discussed. The ECODAB is accessible to the scientific community at http://www.casper.organ.su.se/ECODAB/.