Translation of the genomes of several positive-sense RNA viruses follows end-independent initiation on an internal ribosomal entry site (IRES) in the viral mRNA. There are four major IRES groups, and despite major differences in the mechanisms that they use, one unifying characteristic is that each mechanism involves essential non-canonical interactions of the IRES with components of the canonical translational apparatus. Thus the approximately 200nt.-long Type 4 IRESs (epitomized by Cricket paralysis virus) bind directly to the intersubunit space on the ribosomal 40S subunit, followed by joining to a 60S subunit to form active ribosomes by a factor-independent mechanism. The approximately 300nt.-long type 3 IRESs (epitomized by Hepatitis C virus) binds independently to eukaryotic initiation factor (eIF) 3, and to the solvent-accessible surface and E-site of the 40S subunit: addition of eIF2-GTP/initiator tRNA is sufficient to form a 48S complex that can join a 60S subunit in an eIF5/eIF5B-mediated reaction to form an active ribosome. Recent cryo-electron microscopy and biochemical analyses have revealed a second general characteristic of the mechanisms of initiation on Type 3 and Type 4 IRESs. Both classes of IRES induce similar conformational changes in the ribosome that influence entry, positioning and fixation of mRNA in the ribosomal decoding channel. HCV-like IRESs also stabilize binding of initiator tRNA in the peptidyl (P) site of the 40S subunit, whereas Type 4 IRESs induce changes in the ribosome that likely promote subsequent steps in the translation process, including subunit joining and elongation.