4.4: Internal api changes
The binary interface provided by the kernel to user space cannot be broken except under the most severe circumstances. The kernel's internal programming interfaces, instead, are highly fluid and can be changed when the need arises. If you find yourself having to work around a kernel API, or simply not using a specific functionality because it does not meet your needs, that may be a sign that the API needs to change. As a kernel developer, you are empowered to make such changes.
There are, of course, some catches. API changes can be made, but they need to be well justified. So any patch making an internal API change should be accompanied by a description of what the change is and why it is necessary. This kind of change should also be broken out into a separate patch, rather than buried within a larger patch.
The other catch is that a developer who changes an internal API is generally charged with the task of fixing any code within the kernel tree which is broken by the change. For a widely-used function, this duty can lead to literally hundreds or thousands of changes - many of which are likely to conflict with work being done by other developers. Needless to say, this can be a large job, so it is best to be sure that the justification is solid.
When making an incompatible API change, one should, whenever possible, ensure that code which has not been updated is caught by the compiler. This will help you to be sure that you have found all in-tree uses of that interface. It will also alert developers of out-of-tree code that there is a change that they need to respond to. Supporting out-of-tree code is not something that kernel developers need to be worried about, but we also do not have to make life harder for out-of-tree developers than it it needs to be.