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Advances in optical networking reveal that all optical networks offering a multigigabit rate per wavelength will soon become economical as the underlying backbone in wide-area networks, in which the optical switch plays a central role. One of the central issues is the design of efficient signaling protocols which can support diversified traffic types, in particular the bursty IP traffic. This paper introduces a novel signaling protocol called the sampling probe algorithm (or SPA) to be used in a class of optical packet switching systems based on wavelength division multiplexing (WDM). The proposed scheme takes a drastically different approach from all existing signaling protocols. The salient features are 1) the pretransmission coordination is using an in-band signaling protocol, and thus does not require separate control channel(s) for transmission coordination; 2) the protocol is based on a reservation (connection) scheme which is capable of supporting multimedia traffic; 3) a gated service is adopted in which each successful reservation allows multiple packets (train of packets) to be transmitted, which can significantly reduce the per packet overhead; 4) the scheduling algorithm is adaptive by allowing flexible assignment of bandwidth on-demand; 5) the channel status gathering is done in a distributed fashion, and uses a passive listening mechanism, which itself does not interfere with packet transmissions. The results demonstrate that the proposed in-band signaling protocol can achieve high throughput and stability under heavy traffic condition.