In many cells throughout the body, vitamin D is converted into its active form calcitriol and binds to the vitamin D receptor (VDR), which functions as a transcription factor to regulate various biological processes including cellular differentiation and immune response. Vitamin D-metabolising enzymes (including CYP24A1 and CYP27B1) and VDR play major roles in exerting and regulating the effects of vitamin D. Preclinical and epidemiological studies have provided evidence for anti-cancer effects of vitamin D (particularly against colorectal cancer), although clinical trials have yet to prove its benefit. In addition, molecular pathological epidemiology research can provide insights into the interaction of vitamin D with tumour molecular and immunity status. Other future research directions include genome-wide research on VDR transcriptional targets, gene–environment interaction analyses and clinical trials on vitamin D efficacy in colorectal cancer patients. In this study, we review the literature on vitamin D and colorectal cancer from both mechanistic and population studies and discuss the links and controversies within and between the two parts of evidence.