This paper gives an overview of principles, technologies, and applications using near infrared spectrometry and imaging (NIRS and NIRI) to study brain function. The physical background is reviewed and technologies and their properties are discussed. Advantages and limitations of NIRI are described. The basic functional signals obtained by NIRI, the neuronal and the hemodynamic signal are described and in particular publications about the former are reviewed. Applications in adults and neonates are reviewed, too.