The TGF-β pathway is an evolutionarily conserved signal transduction module that mediates diverse biological processes in animals. In Drosophila, both the BMP and Activin branches are required for viability. Studies rooted in classical and molecular genetic approaches continue to uncover new developmental roles for TGF-β signaling. We present an overview of the secreted ligands, transmembrane receptors and cellular Smad transducer proteins that compose the core pathway in Drosophila. An assortment of tools have been developed to conduct tissue-specific loss- and gain-of-function experiments for these pathway components. We discuss the deployment of these reagents, with an emphasis on appropriate usage and limitations of the available tools. Throughout, we note reagents that are in need of further improvement or development, and signaling features requiring further study. A general theme is that comparison of phenotypes for ligands, receptors, and Smads can be used to map tissue interactions, and to separate canonical and non-canonical signaling activities. Core TGF-β signaling components are subject to multiple layers of regulation, and are coupled to context-specific inputs and outputs. In addition to fleshing out how TGF-β signaling serves the fruit fly, we anticipate that future studies will uncover new regulatory nodes and modes and will continue to advance paradigms for how TGF-β signaling regulates general developmental processes.