A novel scanning water vapor differential absorption lidar (DIAL) system has been developed. This instrument is mobile and was applied successfully in two field campaigns: COPS 2007 (Convective and Orographically-induced Precipitation Study), a research and development project of the World Weather Research Programme, and FLUXPAT2009 within the German Research Foundation project Patterns in Soil-Vegetation-Atmosphere Systems: monitoring, modeling and data assimilation". In this paper, the instrument is described and its capabilities are illustrated with measurements examples. The DIAL provides remote sensing data of the atmospheric water-vapor field with previously unachieved resolution. The data products of the DIAL are profiles of absolute humidity with typical resolutions of 15 to 300 m with a temporal resolution of 1 to 10 s and a maximum range of several kilometers at both day and night. But spatial and temporal resolution can be traded off against each other. Intercomparisons with other instruments confirm high accuracy. Beside humidity, also the backscatter field and thus aerosols and clouds are observed simultaneously. The DIAL transmitter is based on an injection-seeded Titanium:Sapphire laser operated at 820 nm which is end-pumped with a diode-pumped Nd:YAG laser. By use of a scanning transmitter with an 80-cm receiving telescope, the measurements can be performed in any direction of interest and the 3-dimensional structure of the water vapor field can be observed.