Background There is a paucity of valid, brief instruments for the assessment of lifetime major depressive disorder (MDD) that can be used in, for example, large-scale genomics, imaging or biomarker studies on depression. We developed the LIfetime Depression Assessment Self-report (LIDAS), which assesses lifetime MDD diagnosis according to DSM criteria, and is largely based on the widely used Composite International Diagnostic Interview (CIDI). Here, we tested the feasibility and determined the sensitivity and specificity for measuring lifetime MDD with this new questionnaire, with a regular CIDI as reference. Method Sensitivity and specificity analyses of the online lifetime MDD questionnaire were performed in adults with (n = 177) and without (n = 87) lifetime MDD according to regular index CIDIs, selected from the Netherlands Study of Depression and Anxiety (NESDA) and Netherlands Twin Register (NTR). Feasibility was tested in an additional non-selective, population-based sample of NTR participants (n = 245). Results Of the 753 invited persons, 509 (68%) completed the LIDAS, of which 419 (82%) did this online. User-friendliness of the instrument was rated high. Median completion time was 6.2 min. Sensitivity and specificity for lifetime MDD were 85% [95% confidence interval (CI) 80-91%] and 80% (95% CI 72-89%), respectively. This LIDAS instrument gave a lifetime MDD prevalence of 20.8% in the population-based sample. Conclusions Measuring lifetime MDD with an online instrument was feasible. Sensitivity and specificity were adequate. The instrument gave a prevalence of lifetime MDD in line with reported population prevalences. LIDAS is a promising tool for rapid determination of lifetime MDD status in large samples, such as needed for genomics studies.