Bartter and Gitelman syndromes are rare inherited tubulopathies characterized by hypokalaemic, hypochloraemic metabolic alkalosis. They are caused by mutations in at least 7 genes involved in the reabsorption of sodium in the thick ascending limb (TAL) of the loop of Henle and/or the distal convoluted tubule (DCT). Different subtypes can be distinguished and various classifications have been proposed based on clinical symptoms and/or the underlying genetic cause. Yet, the clinical phenotype can show remarkable variability, leading to potential divergences between classifications. These problems mostly relate to uncertainties over the role of the basolateral chloride exit channel CLCNKB, expressed in both TAL and DCT and to what degree the closely related paralogue CLCNKA can compensate for the loss of CLCNKB function. Here, we review what is known about the physiology of the transport proteins involved in these disorders. We also review the various proposed classifications and explain why a gene-based classification constitutes a pragmatic solution.