The rapid emergence of metabolomics has enabled system-wide measurements of metabolites in various organisms. However, advances in the mechanistic understanding of metabolic networks remain limited, as most metabolomics studies cannot routinely provide accurate metabolite identification, absolute quantification and flux measurement. Stable isotope labeling offers opportunities to overcome these limitations. Here we describe some current approaches to stable isotope-labeled metabolomics and provide examples of the significant impact that these studies have had on our understanding of cellular metabolism. Furthermore, we discuss recently developed software solutions for the analysis of stable isotope-labeled metabolomics data and propose the bioinformatics solutions that will pave the way for the broader application and optimal interpretation of system-scale labeling studies in metabolomics. © 2014 Future Science Ltd.