New techniques in air-displacement plethysmography seem to have overcome many of the previous problems of poor reproducibility and validity. These have made body-density measurements available to a larger range of individuals, including children, elderly and sick patients who often have difficulties in being submerged underwater in hydrodensitometry systems. The BOD POD air-displacement system (BOD POD body composition system; Life Measurement Instruments, Concord, CA, USA) is more precise than hydrodensitometry, is simple and rapid to operate (approximately 1 min measurements) and the results agree closely with those of hydrodensitometry (e.g. +/- 3.4% for estimation of body fat). Body line scanners employing the principles of three-dimensional photography are potentially able to measure the surface area and volume of the body and its segments even more rapidly (approximately 10 s), but the validity of the measurements needs to be established. Advances in i.r. spectroscopy and mathematical modelling for calculating the area under the curve have improved precision for measuring enrichment of 2H2O in studies of water dilution (CV 0.1-0.9% within the range of 400-1000 microliters/l) in saliva, plasma and urine. The technique is rapid and compares closely with mass spectrometry (bias 1 (SD 2) %). Advances in bedside bioelectrical-impedance techniques are making possible potential measurements of skinfold thicknesses and limb muscle mass electronically. Preliminary results suggest that the electronic method is more reproducible (intra- and inter-individual reproducibility for measuring skinfold thicknesses) and associated with less bias (+12%), than anthropometry (+40%). In addition to these selected examples, the 'mobility' or transfer of reference methods between centres has made the distinction between reference and bedside or field techniques less distinct than in the past.