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The dislocation structure of hydride vapor phase epitaxial thick GaN layers grown on sapphire is studied by analysis of the microdistortion tensor components. Symmetrical reflections (including reflections from planes forming a large angle with the basal plane) with two modes of scanning (θ and θ–2θ) in two geometries (Bragg and Laue) are used to obtain the tensor components. The instant connections between the tensor components and major dislocation types are specified. Different types of dislocation distributions have been identified in the thick GaN films grown on sapphire with and without undoped and Si-doped metalorganic chemical vapor deposited templates. Transmission electron microscopy was used to confirm the x-ray results by direct visualization of defect rearrangements. © 2000 American Institute of Physics.