Scanning electron microscopy (SEM) has shown various significant improvements since it first became available in 1965. These improvements include enhanced resolution, dependability, ease of operation, and reduction in size and cost. This article provides a detailed account of the instrumentation and principles of SEM, broadly explaining its capabilities in resolution and depth of field imaging. It describes three additional functions of SEM, including the use of channeling patterns to evaluate the crystallographic orientation of micron-sized regions; use of backscattered detectors to reveal grain boundaries on unetched samples and domain boundaries in ferromagnetic alloys; and the use of voltage contrast, electron beam-induced currents, and cathodoluminescence for the characterization and failure analysis of semiconductor devices. The article compares the features of SEM with that of scanning Auger microscopes, and lists the applications and limitations of SEM.