The vitamin D endocrine system has clear beneficial effects on bone as demonstrated by prevention of rickets in children and by reducing the risk of osteomalacia or osteoporosis in adults or elderly subjects. Depending on the design of the study of genetically modified animals, however, 1,25(OH)2D and the vitamin D receptor (VDR) may have no effect, beneficial or even deleterious direct effects on bone. We present here a comprehensive model of the direct effects of vitamin D on bone. In case of sufficient calcium supply, vitamin D and its metabolites can improve the calcium balance and facilitate mineral deposition in bone matrix largely without direct effects on bone cells, although some beneficial effects may occur via mature osteoblasts, as demonstrated in mice with osteoblast-specific overexpression of VDR or 1alpha-hydroxylase. In case of calcium deficiency, however, 1,25(OH)2D enhances bone resorption, whereas simultaneously inhibiting bone mineralization, so as to defend serum calcium homeostasis at the expense of bone mass. This dual role probably provides a survival benefit for land vertebrates living in a calcium-poor environment.