In situ hybridization provides a versatile means of analysis of the life cycles of viruses in single cells. This kind of analysis in 'real life' situations has provided considerable insight into the spread of viruses, mechanisms of tissue damage by viruses, and virus-host cell interactions in chronic diseases. In this article I describe refinements in technology underlining these advances, especially developments that have made the technique such a sensitive and quantitative one. I also describe a method for combined macroscopic and microscopic in situ hybridization, new assays for the simultaneous detection of genes and gene products in a single cell, and a double-label in situ hybridization technique. These methods have already proved useful in analyzing the molecular ecology of viral infections, and should find wide application to problems of genetic regulation in many other systems.