It happens all the time. You come across a useful-looking project that has few or no recent commits, many long-open issues and pull requests, and nothing is changing. How do you usually ask if the project is being maintained without sounding impatient and thankless or otherwise unpleasant? Is it good form to open an issue, or is there another method?
There are a number of options, and I've had to do this in the past for real. But beware - you could end up a new committer for the project.
The most straightforward is to pull the project owner's email address from the git log and send them a polite email asking about the status of the project.
In my case, I found there was a mailing list where the project (and others related to it) were being discussed. I sent an email to the list asking what its status was.The next day I got a notification from Github saying I had been added as a member of the project.
The other alternative, if you need something fixed, is to fork the project and fix it yourself - assuming the license allows that, and that you have the skills to do so.
Raising an issue is really only sensible if you are actually reporting a problem. But if there's been no activity on the project, then the issue isn't likely to get you very far.
If there are "many long-open issues and pull requests, and nothing is changing" then you don't need to ask - it's just assume the project is not being maintained.
Open issues aren't an indicator, maybe the project maintainers don't think they're as important as the person who opened the issue. Especially with popular projects, the issue tracker will often be swamped with more work than the team can possibly keep up with.
But if pull requests are being ignored, then your only viable option is to create a full fork of the project (not just a GitHub fork).
In my experience asking wether a project is active will not achieve any useful result. You will either get a reply "no, it's not being maintained" or you'll get a reply "yes, it's being maintained but I've been too busy lately". If you get the latter response, then it's almost guaranteed that the maintainer will continue being too busy into the future as well.
You could try asking for commit access to the project, but the developer has never seen any of your code, so they're not going to grant you access. Or if they do grant you access then that's a real warning sign: will they give access to anybody? Do you want to be part of a project where somebody else might turn up in the future and start committing bad code?
My advice is don't waste your time contributing to a project where your pull requests aren't going to be accepted. The "primary" repository for a healthy project needs to be actively maintained, so go ahead and take over if you can:
- pick a different name to the original.
- make a new github project (not a fork).
- merge in the original repository.
- go through all the ignored pull requests, and merge in the good ones.
- for not-so-good pull requests, ask the author to improve them.
- contact everybody who's ever contributed (including the original author) and invite them to contribute to your fork.