© 2017 The Authors. New Phytologist © 2017 New Phytologist Trust (Table presented.). Summary: The N-end rule relates the stability of a protein to the identity of its N-terminal residue and some of its modifications. Since its discovery in the 1980s, the repertoire of N-terminal degradation signals has expanded, leading to a diversity of N-end rule pathways. Although some of these newly discovered N-end rule pathways remain largely unexplored in plants, recent discoveries have highlighted roles of N-end rule-mediated protein degradation in plant defense against pathogens and in cell proliferation during organ growth. Despite this progress, a bottleneck remains the proteome-wide identification of N-end rule substrates due to the prerequisite for endoproteolytic cleavage and technical limitations. Here, we discuss the recent diversification of N-end rule pathways and their newly discovered functions in plant defenses, stressing the role of proteases. We expect that novel proteomics techniques (N-terminomics) will be essential for substrate identification. We review these methods, their limitations and future developments.