Collection of tumor samples is not always feasible in non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) patients, and circulating free DNA (cfDNA) extracted from blood represents a viable alternative. Different sensitive platforms have been developed for genetic cfDNA testing, some of which are already in clinical use. However, several difficulties remain, particularly the lack of standardization of these methodologies. Areas covered: Here, the authors present a review of the literature to update the applicability of cfDNA for diagnosis and monitoring of NSCLC patients. Expert commentary: Detection of somatic alterations in cfDNA is already in use in clinical practice and provides valuable information for patient management. Monitoring baseline alterations and emergence of resistance mutations is one of the most important clinical applications and can be used to non-invasively track disease evolution. Today, different technologies are available for cfDNA analysis, including whole-genome or exome sequencing and targeted methods that focus on a selection of genes of interest in a specific disease. In the case of Next Generation Sequencing (NGS) approaches, in depth coverage of candidate mutation loci can be achieved by selecting a limited number of targeted genes.