Since Professor Magnus first defined erythropoietic protoporphyria (EPP) in 1961, there has been considerable progress in the understanding this disease. The past decade has been a period of spectacular progress in understanding the genetics and pathogenesis of the disease by molecular investigation. However, progress in therapy for EPP has been slower, and has been dogged by difficulty in assessing treatment efficacy in patients. We are now entering an era in which advances in molecular genetics are directly affecting patient management. This review summarises laboratory and clinical progress in EPP in the past 40 years, and assesses the potential impact of molecular biology on clinical practice.