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Severe energy constraints of battery-powered sensor nodes necessitate energy-efficient communication in Wireless Sensor Networks (WSNs). However, the vast majority of the existing solutions is based on classical layered protocols approach, which leads to significant overhead. It is much more efficient to have a unified scheme which blends common protocol layer functionalities into a cross-layer module. In this paper, a cross layer protocol (XLP) is introduced, which achieves congestion control, routing, and medium access control in a cross-layer fashion. The design principle of XLP is based on the cross-layer concept of initiative determination, which enables receiver-based contention, initiative-based forwarding, local congestion control, and distributed duty cycle operation to realize efficient and reliable communication in WSNs. The initiative determination requires simple comparisons against thresholds, and thus is very simple to implement, even on computationally impaired devices. To the best of our knowledge, XLP is the first protocol that integrates functionalities of all layers from PHY to transport into a cross-layer protocol. A cross-layer analytical framework is developed to investigate the performance of the XLP. Moreover, in a cross-layer simulation platform, the state-of-the- art layered and cross-layer protocols have been implemented along with XLP for performance evaluations. XLP significantly improves the communication performance and outperforms the traditional layered protocol architectures in terms of both network performance and implementation complexity.