In the developing nervous system, building a functional neuronal network relies on coordinating the formation, specification and survival to diverse neuronal and glial cell subtypes. The establishment of neuronal connections further depends on sequential neuron–neuron and neuron–glia interactions that regulate cell-migration patterns and axon guidance. The visual system of Drosophila has a highly regular, retinotopic organization into reiterated interconnected synaptic circuits. It is therefore an excellent invertebrate model to investigate basic cellular strategies and molecular determinants regulating the different developmental processes that lead to network formation. Studies in the visual system have provided important insights into the mechanisms by which photoreceptor axons connect with their synaptic partners within the optic lobe. In this review, we highlight that this system is also well suited for uncovering general principles that underlie glial cell biology. We describe the glial cell subtypes in the visual system and discuss recent findings about their development and migration. Finally, we outline the pivotal roles of glial cells in mediating neural circuit assembly, boundary formation, neural proliferation and survival, as well as synaptic function.