Abstract The goal of this paper is to provide a perspective on the current status and future directions for active flow-control technology with particular emphasis on oscillatory control. This is not a comprehensive review of the literature; rather, certain issues that are often neglected in studies are highlighted showing their importance or impact on the reported observations and targeted outcomes. Feasible routes using flow instability as an efficiency enhancement tool are discussed as an emerging means to explain the physical phenomena of active flow-control and as a tool for control law design and development. Traditional and more recent theoretical approaches to control design are discussed and recommendations are made relevant to numerical complications on the route to design oscillatory flow-control systems. A generic flow control process is put forward and illustrated using experimental examples.