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How to Trace Federal Regulations: A Beginner's Guide

Beginning with the Code of Federal Regulations

Researchers generally begin with a rule or regulation of interest from the Code of Federal Regulations, or CFR. The CFR is “the codification of the general and permanent rules…by the departments and agencies of the Federal Government.” The CFR has 50 Titles, each focusing on a subject area (Agriculture, Labor, etc.), which are then broken down into Chapters (often named for the agency that issued the rules included), Subchapters, Parts1], and sometimes Subparts, before coming down to individual rules or “sections.”

Some Titles are fairly brief, spanning only a single slim volume, while others can run as many as twenty volumes long. A citation to the CFR — for example “25 CFR § 531.1” — tells you first the Title of the CFR in which your rule is located (in this example, that’s Title 25), and then gives you the section number within that Title where your rule appears (here, that’s section 531.1, which is located in Part 531).

If you’ve seen the CFR in print on the shelves of a law library, you may have noticed that these softcover volumes have spines in multiple colors. The color of the spine helps to indicate at a glance in what year the CFR volumes were printed or updated. The publication process is is done cyclically throughout the year:

  • Titles 1-16 (typically revised as of January 1);
  • Titles 17-27 (typically revised as of April 1);
  • Titles 28-41 (typically revised as of July 1); and
  • Titles 42-50 (typically revised as of October 1).

A monthly publication called the List of CFR Sections Affected, or LSA, cumulatively “lists proposed, new, and amended Federal regulations that have been published…since the most recent revision date of a CFR title,” to provide updated information between revisions of the CFR.

You can locate federal regulations in a variety of sources, including:

Once you have located a CFR section of interest to you, you are ready to move on to the next steps.

Resources Referenced


  1. You might see that the covers of the print edition of the CFR might only show a range of Part numbers rather than note the Chapter or Subchapter. Back to text