WP Mayor Verified 2023

InstaWP Review: Create WordPress Sandbox Sites the Easy Way

This article was researched and written by our experts using our in-depth Analysis Methodology.

InstaWP has genuinely impressed me. It’s a game-changer for anyone in the WordPress space. With just one click, you’re set up with a new site, ready for whatever you need. Whether it’s testing a plugin or building a full project for a client, it does it all. What really stands out to me above all else is the ease of everything – from the handy Chrome extension to the full product demo setup. Last but certainly not least, its pricing is affordable for practically everyone, so it’s incredibly simple to get started.

5/5
5/5
Features
4.5/5
Pricing
5/5
Market fit
5/5
Customer support
5/5
User feedback
5/5
Table of Contents

Ever wished that you could create a new WordPress install by just clicking a button?

Well, those days have arrived!

You could easily test that cool new plugin on the WordPress repo, start working on that new client site, and even let your customers demo the plugin you’re selling to convince them to make their purchase.

InstaWP is a service that can handle all of those use cases and more. You can spin up a fresh WordPress install just by clicking a button, including using pre-set templates and configurations to save time. You can even share links that let other people spin up a site using your template – plus a lot more.

In our InstaWP review, we’ll take a hands-on look at this tool and show you how you can use it to improve your WordPress workflows.

InstaWP Review: A High-Level Look at What It Does

InstaWP's website homepage

The basic premise of InstaWP is quite simple:

It lets you (or other people) quickly spin up a fresh WordPress install. There’s no messing around with hosting – you just click a few buttons, and you have a working WordPress install that you can use for testing or development.

Think of them like sandbox WordPress sites.

You can start the site as a blank, fresh WordPress installation, or you can create your own templates to automatically pre-install certain themes and plugins and configure settings (such as the PHP version of the sandbox) in a certain way.

You can let a site automatically expire after a certain amount of time or you can have it persist until you manually delete it.

So – what might you use these sandbox sites for? I see three main use cases:

  1. Building client sites – you can use the site to develop the client site. By hosting it on InstaWP instead of using a local development tool, you get benefits such as being able to access the site from anywhere and share live links with your clients for review.
  2. Testing stuff for your own sites – You can test out a new plugin or theme before installing it on your live site. Or, you can just play around with different settings and configurations.
  3. Letting potential customers test your WordPress plugin or theme – if you sell your own plugin or theme, you can configure it so that potential customers can easily spin up a sandbox to test things. You can pre-install the plugin that you sell so that people can start testing right away.
  4. Two-way Sync – The tool lets you create a 1-click staging of your live site, make changes in this staging site, and sync changes between the live and staging versions of your site.

Here are some other notable features that caught my eye:

  • InstaWP Template Store – You can now pick templates from the InstaWP store and build your sites even faster. The store has a wide range of templates designed by professionals. Alternatively, if you’re someone with the ability to create nice custom templates, you can upload your templates to this store and monetize your work.
  • White-label custom domain – you can use your own custom domain for the sandbox sites, which is great if you’re an agency or you’re offering demo sites for your WordPress plugin.
  • Full access – you still get access with FTP, SSH, database editing, etc, as you would with typical hosting providers.
  • Team members – you can create teams and add other team members, which is great for agencies.
  • Slack integration – you can create a fresh WordPress install just by typing /wp in Slack.
  • Chrome integration – you can use the Chrome extension to add a Launch button to WordPress.org theme and plugin pages. That button lets you create a new site that pre-installs the extension you’re considering, which is great for quickly testing a new plugin in a safe way.

How to Use InstaWP to Create WordPress Sites

Now that you know what InstaWP does, let’s get into how you can use it to spin up WordPress sites.

I’ll start by showing you how to create a blank WordPress installation, which won’t take long because it’s super simple. Then, I’ll get into some of the more advanced features, such as creating pre-set templates and configurations.

Creating A Fresh WordPress Installation

Once you register for a free InstaWP account, you can create a new site by clicking the New Site or Add New buttons in the Sites tab of your dashboard.

Adding a new site in InstaWP

This will open a popup where you can configure the basic settings of your site:

  • WordPress version
  • PHP version
  • Default configuration (more on this below)
  • Website name

You can also select the plugins to pre-install on your WordPress website to save some more time.

On the other hand, you can also create your site based on one of the templates, which I’ll also cover in the next section.

Creating a new site from scratch

And that’s it!

You have a working WordPress site in a few clicks. 

Log in to the dashboard using the credentials that are provided or you can just click the Magic Login button.

InstaWP's magic login and site credentials

Once you’re inside the WordPress dashboard, it works exactly like any other self-hosted WordPress installation. You can manage plugins and themes, adjust settings, add users, and so on.

Accessing Your Site And Using Tools

In addition to accessing the WordPress dashboard by clicking the auto-login link, InstaWP also gives you a number of other tools for accessing and managing your site, which you can use from the Sites dashboard.

InstaWP tools

The Open Database option lets you open the site’s database in Adminer, as you can see below.

Database access

The Code Editor button opens an in-browser code editor where you can edit all of the core files, plugins, and themes.

This is really handy for making quick edits without needing to use FTP (though you can do that too). You can also create new files if you need to.

Code editor

In the drop-down, you can also perform the following actions:

  • Migrate the site to live hosting using a built-in Migrate Guru integration.
  • Export the site as a zip file to use in LocalWP (for local development).
  • Access FTP/SSH.
  • Map a custom domain to this sandbox site.
  • Reserve the site so that it doesn’t automatically expire (in other words, you’d be creating a permanent installation until you manually delete it).

Creating Templates And Configurations

To help you save time when creating sites, InstaWP lets you set up two types of presets:

  • Configurations – this lets you create a preset for technical details such as the PHP version, WordPress version, PHP configuration, WordPress configuration, and so on. You can also pre-install certain plugins or themes.
  • Templates – this lets you save an entire existing site as a template. You can then create new sites by using that template and they will start out looking and working exactly like the original version.

Configurations

You can create a new configuration from the Configurations tab in the dashboard.

Configuration settings

There are three settings tabs for each configuration:

  • General – WordPress and PHP versions.
  • PHP – PHP configuration settings (e.g. memory limit or max upload size).
  • WordPress – the most flexible. You can add themes and plugins to pre-install, either from WordPress.org or from any direct URL. You can also enable a multi-site installation.
Pre-installing plugins on test sites

You can create as many configurations as needed – they’ll show up in the sidebar of the interface. You can then choose one of those configurations whenever you create a new WordPress site.

Customizing the website config

Templates

Templates are similar to configurations, however, the key difference that I can see is that templates let you go beyond just pre-installing plugins and themes by letting you also save your settings.

For example, a configuration would let you pre-install the Spotlight plugin, but a template would let you do that and have an already configured Instagram feed set up in Spotlight’s settings.

The same is true for theme settings, user settings, WordPress settings, and so on.

To create a template, open the drop-down for an existing site that you want to save as a template and choose the Save as Template option.

This will open a slide-out where you can configure some other options:

  • Template name and description – these help you remember what it does.
  • Enable Sharing – this lets other people create a site based on the template by clicking a link. If you’re a theme/plugin developer who wants to offer potential customers test sites, this is what you’d use. All the customer needs to do is click the shared link and they can create their own test site.
  • Instant Template – it will automatically create a site based on the template (instead of requiring additional user action). This is especially useful if you’re sharing your templates.
Saving a template in InstaWP

If you do enable sharing, you’ll get some additional options. One nice feature is that you have the option to require people to enter their email address (and then you can collect those emails for marketing purposes). This lets you turn your product demo sites into a lead generation tool.

You can even customize the email that people receive and integrate your own product’s branding.

Customize emails and branding

Once you create a template, it will show up in the Templates tab.

Create mutliple site templates

You can also choose that template when creating a new site.

Selecting a template to create a site from

If you create a shareable template and require an email opt-in, visitors will see a nice and simple landing page when they click on your link. This makes the experience that bit more cohesive.

InstaWP template use-case for product demos

Using The Chrome Extension

If you need to test a lot of plugins and themes, InstaWP also offers a convenient Chrome extension.

When you activate the extension, it will add a new Launch button to the WordPress.org theme and plugin pages.

If you click that button, it will automatically create a fresh WordPress site and pre-install the theme or plugin that you’re looking at. I don’t think you could create any easier method for testing themes and plugins.

InstaWP's Chroms extension on the WordPress plugin repository

InstaWP Pricing

Getting to the dollars and cents, InstaWP offers both free and paid plans.

In general, the free plan should work fine if you’re just a casual user looking to test out a few things. 

However, if you’re a freelancer or an agency building client sites (or even a solo user who builds a lot of sites), you’ll want to opt for one of the paid plans.

The same is true if you’re a WordPress product owner looking to let potential customers test out your plugin or theme through a demo site before purchasing.

The free plan offers the following benefits:

  • Create up to five active sites.
  • Sites expire after two days (there’s no way to create a permanent install on the free plan, which is why it’s better for short-term testing).
  • Restore up to three sites per month.
  • Create up to one pre-set template.
  • 500 MB max storage for your account.

If you upgrade to one of the premium plans, you can get access to some or all of the following features:

  • Higher site limits and longer default expiration times.
  • Option to reserve sites so that they don’t expire (they’re permanent until you delete them).
  • Custom domain names and white-labelling.
  • Full technical access via FTP, SSH, etc.
  • Teams and team members.
  • More templates and more advanced template options.
  • Site cloning.

The InstaWP premium plans start at just $6 per month, billed yearly. By opting to pay annually instead of monthly, you’ll get two months free.

The most popular Professional plan starts at only $24 and gives you access to 25 sites with 10 templates. If you’re running a small agency or launching a new product, this is more than affordable, so I appreciate the fact that InstaWP has kept its pricing at a realistic level.

InstaWP pricing

Real User Feedback

Having looked around at user reviews around the web, there is almost nothing but praise for InstaWP wherever you look.

Whether it’s a developer running an agency, a product owner creating demos for users, or even your average Joe that simply wants to test new plugins before installing them on a live site, it’s 5 stars all over the place.

Just have a look at their Trustpilot reviews and you’ll be instantly convinced.

InstaWP reviews on Trustpilot

Final Thoughts On InstaWP

Overall, I was very impressed with InstaWP.

It isn’t the first tool to offer these kinds of one-click sandbox WordPress installations, however, I do think it’s gone further than any other tool I’ve used in terms of the useful features that it gives you access to.

It has quickly became a go-to tool for developers wanting to develop sites in one place and deploy them to their hosting platforms from there.

For example, let’s say you’re a casual user who wants to test plugins and themes. The Chrome extension makes it super simple to spin up new test sites right from the plugin repo without needing to manually set up a test site and install the plugin.

If you’re an agency or developer building client sites, then you also get a lot of handy workflow features:

  1. You can use configurations and templates to save time when starting a new project.
  2. You can quickly edit code or access the database in your browser, saving even more time.
  3. You can white-label the domain name to create a custom experience for your clients.
  4. When you’re finished, you can easily migrate it to live hosting using the Migrate Guru integration. Or you can also pull it down to LocalWP if needed.

Finally, if you sell plugins or themes, InstaWP is probably the most complete and reliable solution I’ve seen for demo site creation:

  1. You can save a template of the exact configuration that you want to share with potential customers. Most importantly, you can pre-configure your plugin in an optimal way to ensure people have a good experience from the start.
  2. You get shareable links which you could add to ant landing page or share it via email. Users just need to click that link to create their site.
  3. You can ask for people to enter their email address which you can then use as part of your lead generation.
  4. If you want to create a custom experience, you can white-label the landing page with your own logo and domain name, and even customize the email that demo users receive.

Whatever you do, InstaWP is at least worth a look.

To test it out, sign up for a free trial and see how it works for yourself. Once you’re convince upgrade to a paid plan to get access to all the unique features and start creating unique experiences for clients and customers.

WP Mayor Verified 2023
5/5

Colin Newcomer

Colin has been using WordPress for over a decade and is on a quest to test all 60,000+ plugins at WordPress.org. He has been a Writer and Product Review Expert for WP Mayor since 2017, testing well over 150 products and services throughout that time.

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