Possible pathways for translocation across the membrane in active transport processes are examined theoretically. Thermodynamic and kinetic requirements are readily satisfied by an alternating-access mechanism of the kind that has been proposed in the past by several investigators. The essential features of this mechanism (for transport of a single species) are shown to be defined by four explicit conditions. (i) The transport protein must have at least two distinct conformational states, each accessible from only one side of the membrane. (ii) Binding affinity for the transported species is high in the state accessible from the uptake side of the membrane and much lower in the state accessible from the discharge side. (iii) The change from one conformation to the other involves movement of the binding site itself (with the transported species remaining attached) or rearrangement within the site that is topologically equivalent to such movement. (iv) Return to the original conformation occurs with unoccupied binding sites. The analysis demonstrates that a passage through the membrane that is simultaneously accessible from both sides cannot be used for active transport regardless of what the energetics of opening or closing of the passage may be. Even movement from one fixed site to another within the protein, without access to the outside, is virtually excluded as a possible element of the central mechanism. A ligand conduction mechanism for ATP-linked ion transport is in principle conceivable but is subject to restrictions that make it improbable.