We report measurements of stress in GaN epitaxial layers grown on 6H–SiC and α-Al2O3 substrates. Biaxial stresses span +1.0 GPa (tensile) to -1.2 GPa (compressive). Stress determined from curvature measurements, obtained using phase-shift interferometry (PSI) microscopy, compare well with measurements using accepted techniques of x-ray diffraction (XRD) and Raman spectroscopy. Correlation between XRD and Raman measurements of the E22 phonon gives a Raman-stress factor of -3.4±0.3 cm-1/GPa. We apply PSI microscopy for temperature dependent stress measurements of the GaN films. Variations found in the stress–temperature coefficient correlate well with threading dislocation densities. We develop a phenomenological model which describes the thermal stress of the epitaxial GaN as a superposition of that for ideal GaN and the free volume existing in the layers due to the threading dislocations. The model describes well the observed dependence. © 2004 American Institute of Physics.