The study of cis-regulatory DNAs that control developmental gene expression is integral to the modeling of comprehensive genomic regulatory networks for embryogenesis. Ascidian embryos provide a unique opportunity for the analysis of cis-regulatory DNAs with cellular resolution in the context of a simple but typical chordate body plan. Here, we review landmark studies that have laid the foundations for the study of transcriptional enhancers, among other cis-regulatory DNAs, and their roles in ascidian development. The studies using ascidians of the Ciona genus have capitalized on a unique electroporation technique that permits the simultaneous transfection of hundreds of fertilized eggs, which develop rapidly and express transgenes with little mosaicism. Current studies using the ascidian embryo benefit from extensively annotated genomic resources to characterize transcript models in silico. The search for functional noncoding sequences can be guided by bioinformatic analyses combining evolutionary conservation, gene coexpression, and combinations of overrepresented short-sequence motifs. The power of the transient transfection assays has allowed thorough dissection of numerous cis-regulatory modules, which provided insights into the functional constraints that shape enhancer architecture and diversification. Future studies will benefit from pioneering stable transgenic lines and the analysis of chromatin states. Whole genome expression, functional and DNA binding data are being integrated into comprehensive genomic regulatory network models of early ascidian cell specification with a single-cell resolution that is unique among chordate model systems.