Aerosol is considered to be one of many uncertainties which affect the Earth's climates and environments. Space-borne passive optical remote sensor with large field of view, wide-band and high spatial resolution has become an effective means to realize cloud and aerosol detection from space. After summarizing necessities and feasibilities of optical sensor for cloud and aerosol remote sensing, system components, technical parameters and characteristics of typical optical sensors for cloud and aerosol remote sensing are introduced in detail. Deficiencies of current instruments and real needs of aerosol retrieval are analyzed, and the development tendency of instruments for cloud and aerosol remote sensing from space is indicated. Finally, a new cloud and aerosol remote sensing instrument architecture is envisioned. Integration of large field, medium-resolution, multi-angle, multi-spectral, wide-spectrum and high accuracy polarimetric sensing approaches into a single instrument with long life would be the best choice for new generation optical remote sensor for cloud and aerosol from space.