Near-infrared spectroscopy (NIRS) is a relatively new technology that offers the enormous advantage of making measurements in vivo of changes in cerebral hemodynamics and oxygenation. Because NIRS is noninvasive and portable, it can provide real-time measurements of these changes at the bedside. Thus NIRS is ideally suited to the study of many physiological and pathological processes affecting the brain, particularly in the infant or young child in the intensive care unit or operating room. This review outlines the basic principles, advantages, and limitations of the current state of NIRS technology. An emphasis is placed on the animal and clinical studies that are relevant to the field of child neurology, with an eye to the future evolution and potential applications of this promising technique.