The dynamics of the tear film are reviewed with specific reference to the biophysical aspects: distribution, turnover and elimination through evaporation, drainage, and absorption. The review concentrates on quantitative assessments and is confined to aspects of the dynamics that can be fully and directly measured. The techniques of fluorophotometry, fluorescein clearance, lacrimal scintigraphy, evaporimetry and osmometry are described. Reports in the literature for values of tear turnover (flow), evaporation and osmolarity for normal and dry eyes are collated. Indices of tear film dynamics based on these measurements, including tear function index, total tear flow, and osmolarity, are discussed in relation to their potential in the differential diagnosis of dry eye and new referent values for the disease suggested. The limitations of derivation and application of these indices are discussed.