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A reference structure plays a modulation role on radiation properties such as absorption and permittivity. From the physical view, it is a material entity distributed between an object and a measuring system. Reference structure may be made artificially or exploited in its natural property. The term "reference structure" was firstly proposed in computational imaging systems. Thus, this review firstly introduces computational imaging systems from the view of a mathematical framework. Then the significance of reference structure in imaging systems is presented in the mathematical way. After the review of the functionality of reference structure, the applications using reference structures in sensor systems are summarized. We discuss the applications of segmenting object space by reference structure. Thus, some investigations on segmenting object space by geometric reference structure are reviewed because the analysis of segmenting object space is crucial to the design of a sensor system.