The name Diapsida means "two arches", and diapsids are traditionally classified based on their two ancestral skull openings (temporal fenestrae) posteriorly above and below the eye. This arrangement allows for the attachment of larger, stronger jaw muscles, and enables the jaw to open more widely. A more obscure ancestral characteristic is a relatively long lower arm bone (the radius) compared to the upper arm bone (humerus).
Diapsids were originally classified as one of four subclasses of the class Reptilia, all of which were based on the number and arrangement of openings in the skull. The other three subclasses were Synapsida (one opening low on the skull, for the "mammal-like reptiles"), Anapsida (no skull opening, including turtles and their relatives), and Euryapsida (one opening high on the skull, including many prehistoric marine reptiles). With the advent of phylogenetic nomenclature, this system of classification was heavily modified. Today, the synapsids are often not considered true reptiles, while Euryapsida were found to be an unnatural assemblage of diapsids that had lost one of their skull openings. Genetic studies have shown that this is also the case in turtles, which are actually heavily modified diapsids. In phylogenetic systems, birds (descendants of traditional diapsid reptiles) are also considered to be members of this group.
Some modern studies of reptile relationships have preferred to use the name "diapsid" to refer to the crown group of all modern diapsid reptiles but not their extinct relatives. However, many researchers have also favored a more traditional definition that includes the prehistoric araeoscelidians. In 1991, Laurin defined Diapsida as a clade, "the most recent common ancestor of araeoscelidians, lepidosaurs, and archosaurs, and all its descendants."
^Benton, M. J., Donoghue, P. C., Asher, R. J., Friedman, M., Near, T. J., & Vinther, J. (2015). "Constraints on the timescale of animal evolutionary history." Palaeontologia Electronica, 18.1.1FC; 1-106; palaeo-electronica.org/content/fc-1
^Constanze Bickelmann, Johannes Müller and Robert R. Reisz (2009). "The enigmatic diapsid Acerosodontosaurus piveteaui (Reptilia: Neodiapsida) from the Upper Permian of Madagascar and the paraphyly of younginiform reptiles". Canadian Journal of Earth Sciences49 (9): 651–661. doi:10.1139/E09-038.