The known properties of nitrogen as an impurity in, and as an alloy element of, the germanium network are reviewed in this article. Amorphous and crystalline germanium–nitrogen alloys are interesting materials with potential applications for protective coatings and window layers for solar conversion devices. They may also act as effective diffusion masks for III-V electronic devices. The existing data are compared with similar properties of other group IV nitrides, in particular with silicon nitride. To a certain extent, the general picture mirrors the one found in Si–N systems, as expected from the similar valence structure of both elemental semiconductors. However, important differences appear in the deposition methods and alloy composition, the optical properties of as grown films, and the electrical behavior of nitrogen-doped amorphous layers. Structural studies are reviewed, including band structure calculations and the energies of nitrogen-related defects, which are compared with experimental data. Many important aspects of the electronic structure of Ge–N alloys are not yet completely understood and deserve a more careful investigation, in particular the structure of defects associated with N inclusion. The N doping of the a-Ge:H network appears to be very effective, the activation energy of the most effectively doped samples becoming around 120 meV. This is not the case with N-doped a-Si:H, the reasons for the difference remaining an open question. The lack of data on stoichiometric β-Ge3N4 prevents any reasonable assessment on the possible uses of the alloy in electronic and ceramic applications. © 1998 American Institute of Physics.