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We summarize the problem of measuring an ultrashort laser pulse and describe in detail a technique that completely characterizes a pulse in time: frequency-resolved optical gating. Emphasis is placed on the choice of experimental beam geometry and the implementation of the iterative phase-retrieval algorithm that together yield an accurate measurement of the pulse time-dependent intensity and phase over a wide range of circumstances. We compare several commonly used beam geometries, displaying sample traces for each and showing where each is appropriate, and we give a detailed description of the pulse-retrieval algorithm for each of these cases. © 1997 American Institute of Physics.