The molecular fingerprints of 1,349 isolates of Mycobacterium bovis received between 1979 and August 2000 at Agence Française de Sécurité Sanitaire des Aliments (Afssa) have been obtained by spoligotyping. The majority of the isolates (1,266) were obtained from cattle living in France. An apparently high level of heterogeneity was observed between isolates. One hundred sixty-one spoligotypes were observed in total, of which 153 were from French isolates. The two predominant spoligotypes, designated BCG-like and GB54, accounted for 26 and 12% of the isolates, respectively. In addition, 84% of the spoligotypes were found fewer than 10 times. Analysis of the results by clustering and parsimony-based algorithms revealed that the majority of the spoligotypes were closely related. The predominant spoligotype was identical to that of the vaccine strain Mycobacterium bovis BCG, which was isolated in France at the end of the 19th century. Some spoligotypes were closely associated with restricted geographical areas. Interestingly, some spoligotypes, which were frequently observed in France, were also observed in neighboring countries. Conversely, few spoligotypes were common to France and England, and those that were shared were observed at very different frequencies. This last point illustrates the potential role for an international data bank, which could help trace the spread of M. bovis across national borders.