Infection by viruses having lipid-bilayer envelopes proceeds through fusion of the viral membrane with a membrane of the target cell. Viral 'fusion proteins' facilitate this process. They vary greatly in structure, but all seem to have a common mechanism of action, in which a ligand-triggered, large-scale conformational change in the fusion protein is coupled to apposition and merger of the two bilayers. We describe three examples--the influenza virus hemagglutinin, the flavivirus E protein and the vesicular stomatitis virus G protein--in some detail, to illustrate the ways in which different structures have evolved to implement this common mechanism. Fusion inhibitors can be effective antiviral agents.