Over the past few years mid-infrared absorption spectroscopy based on quantum cascade lasers operating over the region from 3 to 12 µm and called quantum cascade laser absorption spectroscopy or QCLAS has progressed considerably as a powerful diagnostic technique for in situ studies of the fundamental physics and chemistry of molecular plasmas. The increasing interest in processing plasmas containing hydrocarbons, fluorocarbons, nitrogen oxides and organo-silicon compounds has led to further applications of QCLAS because most of these compounds and their decomposition products are infrared active. QCLAS provides a means of determining the absolute concentrations of the ground states of stable and transient molecular species at time resolutions below a microsecond, which is of particular importance for the investigation of reaction kinetics and dynamics. Information about gas temperature and population densities can also be derived from QCLAS measurements. Since plasmas with molecular feed gases are used in many applications such as thin film deposition, semiconductor processing, surface activation and cleaning, and materials and waste treatment, this has stimulated the adaptation of QCLAS techniques to industrial requirements including the development of new diagnostic equipment. The recent availability of external cavity (EC) QCLs offers a further new option for multi-component detection. The aim of this paper is fourfold: (i) to briefly review spectroscopic issues arising from applying pulsed QCLs, (ii) to report on recent achievements in our understanding of molecular phenomena in plasmas and at surfaces, (iii) to describe the current status of industrial process monitoring in the mid-infrared and (iv) to discuss the potential of advanced instrumentation based on EC-QCLs for plasma diagnostics.