Seven hundred and thirty-four isolates of Staphylococcus aureus, recovered from the sputum of 238 cystic fibrosis patients in six French hospitals, were characterized by esterase electrophoretic typing, capsular polysaccharide serotyping and phage typing and tested against 14 antibiotics for sensitivity. Thirty-four esterase electrophoretic types were found with a genotypic diversity coefficient of 0·91. Five hundred and forty-eight (78·7%) isolates produced capsular polysaccharide and 350 (50·3%) were type 8. Four hundred and sixty isolates (66·6%) were phage typable and 202 (28·2%) were lysed by group III bacteriophages. No esterase electrophoretic type, capsular type or phage type was specific to cystic fibrosis. Isolates belonged to a wide range of types, similar to strains acquired outside hospitals. Eighty-five patients had three or more consecutive isolates over at least 6 months. The ability of S. aureus to persist for long periods of time has been demonstrated in 73% of them. Methicillin-resistance was encountered among 73 strains (9·8%) which were also multiresistant. Two hundred and eighty-nine (39·9%) strains were sensitive to all antibiotics tested except to penicillin. Pristinamycin and co-trimoxazole were the most effective antibiotics. These results could contribute to the elaboration of a rational approach to the prophylaxis and therapy of respiratory staphylococcal infections in cystic fibrosis patients.