They have a common language, Shuwa Arabic, which is one of the regional varieties of Arabic. They also have a common traditional mode of subsistence, nomadic cattle herding, although nowadays many lead a settled existence. Nevertheless, collectively they do not all necessarily consider themselves one people, i.e., a single ethnic group. The term "baggara culture" was introduced in 1994 by Braukämper.
The political use of the term "baggara" in Sudan denoting a particular set of tribes is limited to Sudan. It often means a coalition of majority Arabs and a few indigenous African tribes (mainly Fur, Nuba and Fallata) with other Arab tribes of western Sudan (mainly Guhayna), as opposed to Bedouin Abbala Arab tribes. The bulk of "baggara Arabs" live in Chad, the rest live, or seasonally migrate to, southwest Sudan (specifically the southern portions of Darfur and Kordofan), and slivers of the Central African Republic, South Sudan, and Niger. Those who are still nomads migrate seasonally between grazing lands in the wet season and river areas in the dry season.
Their common language is known to academics by various names, such as Chadian Arabic, taken from the regions where the language is spoken. For much of the 20th century, this language was known to academics as "Shuwa Arabic", but "Shuwa" is a geographically and socially parochial term that has fallen into disuse among linguists specializing in the language, who instead refer to it as "Chadian Arabic" depending on the origin of the native speakers being consulted for a given academic project.
The origin of the Baggara is undetermined. According to a 1994 research paper, the group arose in Chad from 1635 onwards through the fusion of an Arabic speaking population. Like other Arabic speaking tribes in the Sahara and the Sahel, Baggara tribes have origin ancestry from the Juhaynah Arab tribes who migrated directly from the Arabian peninsula or from other parts of north Africa. 
Baggara tribes in Sudan include the Gawamaa, Rizeigat, Ta’isha, Beni Halba, and Habbaniya in Darfur, and the Messiria Zurug, Messiria Humur, Hawazma, and Awlad Himayd in Kordofan, and the Beni Selam on the White Nile. For complete and accurate account about Baggara tribes, see: Baggara of Sudan: Culture and Environment. The Misseiria of Jebel Mun speak a Nilo-Saharan language, Miisiirii, related to the Tama of their traditional neighbors.
The small community of "Baggara Arabs" in the southeastern corner of Niger is known as Diffa Arabs for the Diffa Region. They occupy the shore of Lake Chad and migrated from Nigeria since World War II. Most of the Diffa Arabs claim descent from the Mahamid clan of Sudan and Chad.
The Baggara of Darfur and Kordofan were the backbone of the Mahdist revolt against Turko-Egyptian rule in Sudan in the 1880s. The Mahdi's second-in-command, the Khalifa Abdallahi ibn Muhammad, was himself a Baggara of the Ta'aisha tribe. During the Mahdist period (1883–98) tens of thousands of Baggara migrated to Omdurman and central Sudan where they provided many of the troops for the Mahdist armies.