The temporal characteristics of a distributed feedback dye laser are investigated both theoretically and experimentally. It is shown that the feedback is provided by the gain modulation and that the effect of refractive index modulation is negligible. The solution of the coupled rate equations predicts the generation of picosecond pulses. The mechanism of short pulse formation is selfQ-switching which differs fundamentally from mode locking. A novel experimental arrangement for pumping the distributed feedback laser is described which makes it possible to obtain transform-limited pulses even with a partially coherent pumping source such as the N2laser. The experimental results show excellent qualitative and satisfactory quantitative agreement with the computer solutions. A very simple and reliable method for generation of tunable, nearly transform-limited single pulses with 36 ps duration (FWHM) is demonstrated experimentally. The feasibility of picosecond and subpicosecond pulse generation in the entire visible and near IR region is discussed.