Drug resistance is one of the major factors contributing to the resurgence of malaria, especially resistance to the most affordable drugs such as chloroquine and Fansidar™, a combination drug of pyrimethamine and sulfadoxine. Understanding the mechanisms of such resistance and developing new treatments, including new drugs, are urgently needed. Great progress has been made recently in studying the mechanisms of drug action and drug resistance in malaria parasites, particularly in Plasmodium falciparum. These efforts are highlighted by the demonstration of mutations in the parasite dihydrofolate reductase and dihydropteroate synthase genes conferring resistance to pyrimethamine and sulfadoxine, respectively, and by the recent discovery of mutations in the gene coding for a putative transporter, PfCRT, conferring resistance to chloroquine. Mutations in a homologue of a human multiple-drug-resistant gene, pfmdr1, have also been shown to be associated with responses to multiple drugs. However, except in the case of resistance to antifolate drugs, the mechanisms of action and resistance to most drugs currently in use are essentially unknown or are being debated. Additionally, novel mechanisms of resistance exist in different malaria parasites, complicating the process of developing new drugs and treatment strategies. Here we summarise the progress made in drug resistance research in malaria parasites over the past 20 years, emphasising the most recent developments in the genetics of drug resistance.