It has recently been suggested that the thin degenerate layer found at the GaN/sapphire interface results from a high concentration of stacking faults. The studies of this letter, however, show that this is not the most likely explanation for the presence of such a degenerate layer. Using x-ray energy-dispersive spectroscopy and secondary ion-mass spectroscopy, profile distributions of elements Ga, N, O, C, and Al, near the interface, have been obtained. The distributions reveal very high O and Al concentrations in the GaN film within 0.2 μm from the interface, together with a material depletion of Ga and N. Such conditions strongly favor n+ conductivity in this interfacial region because not only are N-vacancy and N-site O donors present, but Al incorporated on the Ga sublattice reduces the concentration of compensating Ga-vacancy acceptors. The two-layer (film plus interface) conduction has been modeled, and the effect of conduction in the GaN film thus isolated. © 2000 American Institute of Physics.