Background Internal ribosomal entry sites (IRESs) provide alternative, cap-independent translation initiation sites in eukaryotic cells. IRES elements are important factors in viral genomes and are also useful tools for bi-cistronic expression vectors. Most existing RNA structure prediction programs are unable to deal with IRES elements. Results We designed an IRES search system, named IRSS, to obtain better results for IRES prediction. RNA secondary structure prediction and comparison software programs were implemented to construct our two-stage strategy for the IRSS. Two software programs formed the backbone of IRSS: the RNAL fold program, used to predict local RNA secondary structures by minimum free energy method; and the RNA Align program, used to compare predicted structures. After complete viral genome database search, the IRSS have low error rate and up to 72.3% sensitivity in appropriated parameters. Conclusion IRSS is freely available at this website . In addition, all source codes, precompiled binaries, examples and documentations are downloadable for local execution. This new search approach for IRES elements will provide a useful research tool on IRES related studies.