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Mode behavior of nonplanar double-heterojunction (DH) and large-optical-cavity (LOC) lasers is investigated using the effective index method to model the lateral field distribution. The thickness variations of various layers for the devices discussed are correlated with the growth characteristics of liquid-phase epitaxy over, topographical features (channels, mesas) etched into the substrate. The effective dielectric profiles of constricted double-heterojunction (CDH)-LOC lasers show a strong influence on transverse mode operation: the fundamental transverse mode (i.e., in the plane perpendicular to the junction) may be laterally index-guided, while the first (high)-order mode is laterally index-antiguided. The analytical model developed uses a smoothly varying hyperbolic cosine distribution to characterize lateral index variations. The waveguide model is applied to several lasers to illustrate conditions necessary to convert leaky modes to trapped ones via the active-region gain distribution. Theoretical radiation patterns are calculated using model parameters, and matched to an experimental far-field pattern.