Laser ablation of dielectrics by ultrashort laser pulses is reviewed. The basic interaction between ultrashort light pulses and the dielectric material is described, and different approaches to the modeling of the femtosecond ablation dynamics are reviewed. Material excitation by ultrashort laser pulses is induced by a combination of strong-field excitation (multi-photon and tunnel excitation), collisional excitation (potentially leading to an avalanche process), and absorption in the plasma consisting of the electrons excited to the conduction band. It is discussed how these excitation processes can be described by various rate-equation models in combination with different descriptions of the excited electrons. The optical properties of the highly excited dielectric undergo a rapid change during the laser pulse, which must be included in a detailed modeling of the excitations. The material ejected from the dielectric following the femtosecond-laser excitation can potentially be used for thin-film deposition. The deposition rate is typically much smaller than that for nanosecond lasers, but film production by femtosecond lasers does possess several attractive features. First, the strong-field excitation makes it possible to produce films of materials that are transparent to the laser light. Second, the highly localized excitation reduces the emission of larger material particulates. Third, lasers with ultrashort pulses are shown to be particularly useful tools for the production of nanocluster films. The important question of the film stoichiometry relative to that of the target will be thoroughly discussed in relation to the films reported in the literature.