The genetic tools available in Drosophila have facilitated our understanding of how apoptosis is regulated and executed in the context of the developing organism. All embryonic apoptosis is initiated by the activity of three genes, rpr, grim and hid. Each of these genes is independently regulated, allowing developmental apoptosis to be finely controlled. These initiators in turn activate the core apoptotic machinery, including the caspases. Drosophila counterparts to other conserved components of the apoptotic machinery have been recently identified, and we discuss how these may be integrated into the process of normal developmentally regulated cell death. We also outline the role that phagocytosis plays in the final stages of apoptosis and consider the molecular mechanisms guiding the elimination of apoptotic corpses.