We propose and demonstrate, numerically and experimentally, use of sparsity as prior information for extending the capabilities and performance of techniques and devices for laser pulse diagnostics. We apply the concept of sparsity in three different applications. First, we improve a photodiode-oscilloscope system’s resolution for measuring the intensity structure of laser pulses. Second, we demonstrate the intensity profile reconstruction of ultrashort laser pulses from intensity autocorrelation measurements. Finally, we use a sparse representation of pulses (amplitudes and phases) to retrieve measured pulses from incomplete spectrograms of cross-correlation frequency-resolved optical gating traces.