Background Outbreaks of infectious diseases would cause great losses to the human society. Source identification in networks has drawn considerable interest in order to understand and control the infectious disease propagation processes. Unsatisfactory accuracy and high time complexity are major obstacles to practical applications under various real-world situations for existing source identification algorithms. Methods This study attempts to measure the possibility for nodes to become the infection source through label ranking. A unified Label Ranking framework for source identification with complete observation and snapshot is proposed. Firstly, a basic label ranking algorithm with complete observation of the network considering both infected and uninfected nodes is designed. Our inferred infection source node with the highest label ranking tends to have more infected nodes surrounding it, which makes it likely to be in the center of infection subgraph and far from the uninfected frontier. A two-stage algorithm for source identification via semi-supervised learning and label ranking is further proposed to address the source identification issue with snapshot. Results Extensive experiments are conducted on both synthetic and real-world network datasets. It turns out that the proposed label ranking algorithms are capable of identifying the propagation source under different situations fairly accurately with acceptable computational complexity without knowing the underlying model of infection propagation. Conclusions The effectiveness and efficiency of the label ranking algorithms proposed in this study make them be of practical value for infection source identification.