The Drosophila larval optic nerve, called Bolwig's nerve (BN), projects into the central brain along a simple invariant path. The growth of the BN proceeds in three phases, during which the nerve changes direction at two intermediate targets, P1 and P2. Here we show that the projection of the BN is amenable to genetic dissection. In a mutagenesis screen, we have isolated mutations in 13 genes that disrupt the BN projection in distinct phases of its development. The mutant phenotypes in combination with the expression patterns of corresponding candidate genes define cellular components necessary for directing the growth of the BN toward P2 and for redirecting its growth at P2, and reveal developmental strategies employed in the establishment of the BN projection.