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Polar codes, introduced recently by Arikan, are the first family of codes known to achieve capacity of symmetric channels using a low complexity successive cancellation decoder. Although these codes, combined with successive cancellation, are optimal in this respect, their finite-length performance is not record breaking. We discuss several techniques through which their finite-length performance can be improved. We also study the performance of these codes in the context of source coding, both lossless and lossy, in the single-user context as well as for distributed applications.