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Ultrafast phase dynamics of free-induction decay for carriers in bulk GaAs is studied with differential-phase spectroscopy. The instantaneous phase shifts of the free-induction decay with respect to the excitation pulses are extracted from simultaneously recorded laser pulse autocorrelation and free-induction decay in GaAs. Ultrafast phase dynamics during and immediately after the femtosecond pulse excitation are numerically evaluated with optical Bloch equations using pump pulse and semiconductor exciton parameters as input. Good agreement of the theory with experiment is obtained. © 1998 American Institute of Physics.