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Epitaxial layers of GaN were grown by molecular beam epitaxy on GaAs (100) and Si (111) substrates. Nitrogen was provided from a rf-plasma source while elemental Ga was evaporated from a Knudsen cell. The growth process was performed in an ultrahigh vacuum chamber that is optically aligned with a multichannel Raman spectrometer. This setup allows Raman spectra to be taken online, i.e., during the growth process. Utilizing resonant Raman scattering conditions, spectra with a sufficient signal-to-noise ratio were taken even at the growth temperature of 600 °C. For both substrates the evolution of compressive strain at the interface was monitored from the frequency shift of the substrate phonons in the initial phase of the growth process. © 1997 American Vacuum Society.