Sometimes you just want to try a new application without messing up your Windows setup, or maybe you found an application online, and you’re not quite sure how sketchy the application is (with all the malware, viruses etc. these days).
In this article, I’ll show you how to use the sandbox functionality found in Windows 10, to safely test applications in a shielded (sandbox) environment.
Note: This only seems to be available for Windows 10 Pro or Enterprise, as of version 1903, (it first became available in the Insider build 18305).
What is a Sandbox?
Besides the obvious space for kids to play in, on your computer a “sandbox” is a way to isolate certain things (applications etc.) and prevent them from touching, damaging or modifying files on your system. This can be accomplished in several ways, but for the sake of argument we will stick with what Windows 10 offers.
The Sandbox under Windows 10 basically runs Windows 10 in a lightweight virtual machine.
A Virtual Machine can be seen as running a simulated PC on your PC.
Anything in the virtual machine will be isolated from your actual Windows setup, so nothing in the virtual machine can touch your Windows.
Even if Windows 10 in this Sandbox would crash horribly, your actual Windows will just keep working fine.
The implementation in Windows 10, for this purpose, is said to be fast, efficient and disposable – ideal for our purposes.
Once you close this virtual machine, it will be disposed of automatically.
Each time you start this sandbox/Virtual machine, you will be starting a completely new and fresh Windows 10 machine.
At least that is the theory behind it.
Windows 10 running in Windows 10 Sandbox
The Short Version …
For experienced users, the impatient, or those that have read this article before, here the short version:
- Windows 10 Pro or Enterprise, version 1903 or newer.
- CPU that can handle Virtualization Technology (VT-x).
- Virtualization Technology (VT-x) enabled in BIOS.
- Windows Features: Turn on “Windows Sandbox“, reboot after install.
- Run “Windows Sandbox” from the Start ( ) menu.
Requirement to run Windows Sandbox
With the right hardware and Windows version, using the Windows Sandbox is quite easy and free and a safe environment to tinker and test with.
So let’s got through the requirements.
Software – Do I have the correct Windows 10 version?
This sandbox option has become available only as of a certain versions (1903) of Windows 10.
But before we look at the version of Windows, you will need to see which Windows 10 edition you have.
You will need at least the Windows 10 Pro or Windows 10 Enterprise edition.
Next you will need to check what “Build” version you have, as the “Windows Sandbox” started appearing as of a specific version of Windows 10.
The Windows Sandbox Feature is NOT available for …
- Windows 10 Home Edition
- Windows 10 versions older than 1903 (or builds older than 18305)
How to determine Windows Edition, Version and/or Build number
Note: For Windows the “Version” and “Build” can be a little confusing at times.
Keep in mind that the version number is typically 4 digits and the build number is 5 digits (or maybe more in the future).
The easiest to find all this information is one of these methods (there are more methods than just these):
Option 1: Using Windows Search to find the “About your PC” info
In the search box, right next to the “Start” button ( ), type “About” (without the quotes).
Some search results will appear and one of them says something like “About your PC“, click that option.
Windows 10 – Search “About your PC”
Windows 10 – About your PC
Option 2: Using the Control Panel to find the “About your PC” info
Click the “Start” button ( ), and choose “Settings” ( ).
In the search box of Control Panel, type “about“, and here as well one of the first option will show something like “About your PC“, select that option.
The window you’ll see here will be the same as seen with Option 1 (figure 2).
Option 3: Using the Command line to find Windows version specifics
Press + R, or open a command line box (DOS box) and type “WinVer” and press Enter.
A Window will popup show something like this:
Windows 10 – WinVer info
Hardware – Your CPU must Support Virtualization (VT-x) Functions
To determine if your computer can handle virtualization, we will first need to see if your CPU (processor) can handle specific virtualization functions.
Under Windows 10, we can do this with the Task Manager.
Having plenty of RAM is most certainly helpful as well!
You can open the “Task Manager” by right clicking the Task Bar, and selecting “Task Manager” from the popup menu.
Alternatively you can press CTRL + SHIFT + Esc to open Task Manager.
When the Task Manager Appears, and it looks like the screenshot below (figure 4), then click the “More details” option, to see the details we need.
Windows 10 -Task Manager – Not enough detail
With the more detailed Task Manager view, we can select “Performance” tab to see if “Virtualization” shows “Enabled“.
Windows 10 Task Manager -Virtualization Enabled
Virtualization not showing or disabled …
If “virtualization” does not show, or does not show as ‘Enabled”:
- You may not have the right Windows Version or Edition, or
- Virtualization Technology (VT-x) may not be enabled in the BIOS of your PC (enabled it and check again), or
- Your CPU is not supporting the required virtualization functions.
Installing the Windows Sandbox feature
The Windows Sandbox is a feature of Windows 10 (Pro/Enterprise) and needs to be enabled (and installed) through the “Turn Windows features on off” in Control Panel. You can get there in 2 ways, similar to what we did to find “About your PC”:
- Type “windows features” in the Windows search box, or
- Click “Start” ( ), select “Settings” and search for (type) “windows features” in the Control Panel search box.
After selecting the “Turn Windows features on off” option, a window will open. Scroll down to “Windows Sandbox“, check the option, and click OK.
Install the Windows 10 Sandbox feature
Windows will now look for the required files and install the Sandbox feature, which goes pretty fast.
After installation, a reboot is required (click the Restart now button).
Starting a Sandbox
Now that this Windows feature has been installed, starting a clean Sandbox is quite easy.
Here we can use the Windows Search method (just type “sandbox” in the search box and “Windows Sandbox” appears), or
by clicking “Start” ( ) and scrolling down to “Windows Sandbox” in the menu.
Starting the Sandbox, will have Windows create a temporary virtual machine, which will hold a completely clean Windows 10.
A few tips and warnings:
- At the moment (not sure if this will change) you cannot drag files from your Windows, and drop files them in the sandbox.
- Copy a file, and paste the file in the sandbox does work.
- The virtual machine does have network access, and therefor access to the Internet and your network shares.
- For security: when testing sketchy applications, it may be better to not access your network shares.
This is also a warning that super sketchy applications may still be very capable of infecting your network and network shares!
- Closing the Sandbox will destroy/delete the virtual machine. So all files/work that you did in the sandbox will be gone.
- By maximizing the Sandbox window, the Sandbox will go full screen.
- NONE of your installed programs will be available in the Sandbox, unless you install it in the Sandbox (each time you start a new sandbox!).