A combined rapid mixing-photocrosslinking technique has been developed to investigate the kinetics of the interaction between Escherichia coli RNA polymerase and T7 DNA. The reactants were rapidly mixed in a modified Durrum stopped-flow apparatus, and the intermediates formed at different stages of the binding process were "frozen" by photocrosslinking with a UV light pulse of 10-mus duration at various times after mixing. The results indicate that the initial binding between RNA polymerase and T7 DNA is a diffusion-controlled reaction. Furthermore, the extents of initial contracts with DNA made with the beta, beta', and sigma subunits of RNA polymerase are roughly proportional to the sizes of these subunits, suggesting that complex formation occurs through random collision between the two reactants. After the initial complex formation, the rate of transfer of polymerase between individual DNA molecules is slow, implying that the polymerase molecules are undergoing predominantly intramolecular transfer during the promoter search. From the kinetic studies of subunit-DNA contacts during RNA polymerase binding to T7 DNA, it can be inferred that the beta, beta', and sigma subunits are directly participating in the promoter search process.