We show that the fractional Fourier transform is a suitable mechanism with which to analyze the diffraction patterns produced by a one-dimensional object because its intensity distribution is partially described by a linear chirp function. The three-dimensional location and the diameter of a fiber can be determined, provided that the optimal fractional order is selected. The effect of compaction of the intensity distribution in the fractional Fourier domain is discussed. A few experimental results are presented. (C) 2002 Optical Society of America.