Microstructural changes that occur in a GeSbTe film during repetitious overwriting in phase‐change optical recording were investigated. The GeSbTe active layer was melted by a focused laser diode (LD) beam during each overwriting process over amorphous mark formation. The repetitious solidification and liquefaction process in such a short time as 50–200 ns resulted in microstructural changes in the active layer: a segregation, sink, and void formations. The sink was formed in the low‐density active layer due to the shrinking of the volume during the resolidification process. Sink formation could be suppressed when a high‐density active layer, having more than 80% of the bulk density, was used. Such a high‐density GeSbTe film, however, resulted in a void formation of the size of 0.1 μm. The voids were thought to be nucleated by residual vacancies and Ar precipitation, since the active layer contained a high concentration of Ar impurities, due to the atomic peening effect. The subsequent void coalescence and migration processes across the beam scanning direction could result in the formation of thermally discontinuous grooves at the edges of the written marks. The voids could also migrate along the LD beam scanning direction, accompanied by a material flow of the active layer in the opposite direction. These phenomena were also found to depend on the material used to fabricate the protective layers which sandwiched the active layer. A TaOx protective layer enhanced the void migration across the track, resulting in the removal of voids from the center of the track. Use of the ZnS:SiO2 compound protective layer confined voids to the center of the track. The ZnS:SiO2 protective layer also promoted the formation of thermally discontinuous grooves at the edges of amorphous marks. The material flow along the track resulted in a thicker active layer at the start of the consecutive LD irradiation, and also in a high void density region at the final edge of the irradiation having a length on the order of 10 μm. This tendency was found for both the ZnS:SiO2 and TaOx sandwiching media. © 1995 American Institute of Physics.