Interrogation of tissue with light offers the potential for noninvasive chemical measurement, and penetration with near-infrared wavelengths (750-1000 nm) is greater than with visible light. Specific absorption by clinically relevant compounds such as oxy- and deoxyhemoglobin and the intracellular respiratory enzyme cytochrome oxidase enable in vivo measurement of these to be performed safely and conveniently. This is the basis of in vivo near-infrared spectroscopy (ivNIRS). Multiple scattering of the interrogating beam by tissues leads to an optical path that is considerably longer than the simple physical pathlength and this complicates the analysis. Modeling of photon propagation through tissues with, for example, finite element and Monte Carlo methods, is assisting in improving the ivNIRS methodology. Instrumentation has advanced from simple continuous wave approaches, through time-resolved methods based on either time-domain or frequency-domain approaches, to spatially resolved measurement based on diffuse reflectance. Initial clinical applications were for monitoring the brain in the neonate and fetus and muscle in adults. Currently, use in adults and children for neurological assessments are of growing interest.