The strain evolution of a GaN layer grown on a high- temperature AlN interlayer with varying AlN thickness by metalorganic chemical vapour deposition is investigated. In the growth process, the growth strain changes from compression to tension in the top GaN layer, and the thickness at which the compressive- to- tensile strain transition takes place is strongly influenced by the thickness of the AlN interlayer. It is confirmed from the x- ray diffraction results that the AlN interlayer has a remarkable effect on introducing relative compressive strain to the top GaN layer. The strain transition process during the growth of the top GaN layer can be explained by the threading dislocation inclination in the top GaN layer. Adjusting the AlN interlayer thickness could change the density of the threading dislocations in the top GaN layer and then change the stress evolution during the top GaN layer's growth.