Benefiting from ultrafast temporal resolution, broadband spectral bandwidth, as well as high peak power, passively mode-locked fibre lasers have attracted growing interest and exhibited great potential from fundamental sciences to industrial and military applications. As a nonlinear system containing complex interactions from gain, loss, nonlinearity, dispersion, etc., ultrafast fibre lasers deliver not only conventional single soliton but also soliton bunching with different types. In analogy to molecules consisting of several atoms in chemistry, soliton molecules (in other words, bound solitons) in fibre lasers are of vital importance for in-depth understanding of the nonlinear interaction mechanism and further exploration for high-capacity fibre-optic communications. In this Review, we summarize the state-of-the-art advances on soliton molecules in ultrafast fibre lasers. A variety of soliton molecules with different numbers of soliton, phase-differences and pulse separations were experimentally observed owing to the flexibility of parameters such as mode-locking techniques and dispersion control. Numerical simulations clearly unravel how different nonlinear interactions contribute to formation of soliton molecules. Analysis of the stability and the underlying physical mechanisms of bound solitons bring important insights to this field. For a complete view of nonlinear optical phenomena in fibre lasers, other dissipative states such as vibrating soliton pairs, soliton rains, rogue waves and coexisting dissipative solitons are also discussed. With development of advanced real-time detection techniques, the internal motion of different pulsing states is anticipated to be characterized, rendering fibre lasers a versatile platform for nonlinear complex dynamics and various practical applications.
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