The European Aerosol Research Lidar Network, EARLINET, was founded in 2000 as a research project for establishing a quantitative, comprehensive, and statistically significant database for the horizontal, vertical, and temporal distribution of aerosols on a continental scale. Since then EARLINET has continued to provide the most extensive collection of ground-based data for the aerosol vertical distribution over Europe. This paper gives an overview of the network's main developments since 2000 and introduces the dedicated EARLINET special issue, which reports on the present innovative and comprehensive technical solutions and scientific results related to the use of advanced lidar remote sensing techniques for the study of aerosol properties as developed within the network in the last 13 years. Since 2000, EARLINET has developed greatly in terms of number of stations and spatial distribution: from 17 stations in 10 countries in 2000 to 27 stations in 16 countries in 2013. EARLINET has developed greatly also in terms of technological advances with the spread of advanced multiwavelength Raman lidar stations in Europe. The developments for the quality assurance strategy, the optimization of instruments and data processing, and the dissemination of data have contributed to a significant improvement of the network towards a more sustainable observing system, with an increase in the observing capability and a reduction of operational costs. Consequently, EARLINET data have already been extensively used for many climatological studies, long-range transport events, Saharan dust outbreaks, plumes from volcanic eruptions, and for model evaluation and satellite data validation and integration. Future plans are aimed at continuous measurements and near-real-time data delivery in close cooperation with other ground-based networks, such as in the ACTRIS (Aerosols, Clouds, and Trace gases Research InfraStructure Network) www.actris.net, and with the modeling and satellite community, linking the research community with the operational world, with the aim of establishing of the atmospheric part of the European component of the integrated global observing system.