This paper provides a critical analysis of the fundamental principles involved in the selection of input and output variables for automatic controllers of composting processes. Research results and technological advancements make available a number of parameters which may be used by a composting process controller. Parameters based on ventilation have been identified as the most appropriate controller output variables. On-line monitoring of odour generation potential and pathogen destruction has not become feasible, although recent advances indicate potential for electronic noses and biosensors. On-line measurement of reaction rate heavily depends on the suitability of microbial respirometric methods. Water content of the material being composted may be useful in on-line evaluation of reaction rate if relationships between water loss rate and respiration rate are adequately described. Developments in artificial intelligence offer, however, new avenues regarding real-time estimation of reaction rates. In general, the first experiences from application of artificial intelligence on composting process control indicate potential for substantial utility. © Taylor & Francis.