Decades of intensive study have led to the discovery of the main pathways involved in central metabolism but only some of the pathways and regulatory networks in which they are embedded. In this review, we discuss techniques used to assemble these pathways into a systems biology framework that can enable accurate modeling of the response of central metabolism to changes, including ways to perturb metabolic systems and assemble the resulting data into a meaningful network. Critically, these networks are of such size and complexity that it is possible to derive them only if data from different groups can be comprehensively and meaningfully combined. We conclude that it is essential to establish common standards for the description of experimental conditions and data collection and to store this information in databases to which the whole community can contribute. Expected final online publication date for the Annual Review of Plant Biology Volume 66 is April 29, 2015. Please see http://www.annualreviews.org/catalog/pubdates.aspx for revised estimates.