Continental extension may occur in two main different modes, narrow and wide rifting, which mainly differ in the width of the deformed region. A third mechanism, the core complex, has been considered either a distinct mode of extension or a local anomaly within wide rifts. In terms of causative processes, continental rifting may be explained by both active or passive mechanisms, which also differ in the volume of magmatic products and in the rheological properties and stratification of the extending lithosphere. Both numerical and analogue models have investigated the main parameters controlling the extension of a rheologically layered lithosphere. In particular, analogue models have highlighted that the style of deformation is mainly controlled by the competition between the total resistance of the lithosphere and the gravitational forces; this competition, in turn, is mainly controlled by boundary conditions, such as the applied strain rate and the rheological characteristics of the extending lithosphere. Magmatic bodies eventually present within the continental lithosphere may significantly affect the process of extension. Both the thermal and mechanical effects related to the presence of magma strongly weaken the lithosphere and localise strain; this effect may have important implications for the mode of continental extension. At a crustal scale, magmatic intrusions may affect significantly the local fault pattern also favouring the development of core complex structures. Results of analogue models, performed taking into account the presence of an initially underplated magma and reproducing various continental extensional settings, suggest a close interaction between deformation and magma emplacement during extension. Particularly, magmatic underplating influences deformation localising strain in correspondence to the low-viscosity body, while on the other hand, rift kinematics and associated deformation has a major control on the pattern of magma emplacement. In particular: (1)During orthogonal rifting, magma is passively squeezed from an axial position towards the footwall of the major boundary faults; emplacement occurs in a lateral position in correspondence to lower crust domes. This process accounts for the close association between magmatism and the development of core complex structures, as well as for the occurrence of off-axis volcanoes in continental rifts. (2)During oblique rifting, deformation causes magma to emplace within the main rift depression, giving rise to intrusions with oblique and en echelon patterns. In nature, these patterns are found in continental rifts and also in some oceanic ridges. (3)Polyphase first orthogonal-second oblique rifting models suggest lateral squeezing and off-axis emplacement in the first phase and oblique en echelon intrusions in the successive oblique rifting phase. This evolution matches the magmatic and tectonic history of the Main Ethiopian Rift. (4)Development of transfer zones between offset rift segments has a great influence on both magma migration and deformation. Particularly, magma accumulates in correspondence to the transfer zone, with a main flow pattern that is perpendicular to the extension direction. This pattern may explain the concentration of magmatism at transfer zones in continental rifts. Overall, analysis of centrifuge models and their comparison with nature suggest that deformation and magma emplacement in the continental crust are intimately related, and their interactions constitute a key factor in deciphering the evolution of both continental and oceanic rifts. © 2003 Elsevier Science B.V. All rights reserved.