Use Sandboxie to test free software without risking your PC’s security (Latest Guide 2021)


If you’re tempted to load free software but are worried it may not be all it says it is, you can use a secure area of your PC to test for any bugs using Sandboxie.

Launch a web browser and visit Sandboxie’s website. When the site loads, click the Download Sandboxie link in the right-hand column and at the next screen, scroll down to the Sandboxie logo and click that.

If the File Download Security Warning dialogue box appears, click Save and then choose a location for the downloaded file. Firefox users should select Save File to save the download to Firefox’s default download folder.

Now locate and double-click the downloaded file to begin the installation. Choose the preferred language, accept the licence agreement and all the other defaults to install Sandboxie. When done, click Finish to complete the process. Finally, close the web browser.

When Sandboxie launches for the first time, it has a quick snoop to see what other programs are running – it’s particularly interested in other security software.

As a result it may display a Software Compatibility dialogue box that asks you to apply some configuration settings to make everything run more smoothly.

Our test PC, for example, has the AVG Anti-Virus application installed: we just clicked OK to apply the suggested changes. Then, when the Sandboxie splash screen appears, click the Close button.

Sandboxie appears in its own window in the centre of the Windows Desktop – we’ll be coming back to this because it shows us what programs are running in the sandbox and what files and folders have been installed.

Also, because so many new programs are downloaded from the internet, Sandboxie creates a shortcut icon to the default web browser (Firefox on our test PC) that’s already set up to run securely in the sandbox – it calls this Sandboxie Web Browser. Double-click this icon.

Pick a download by clicking on its title.

We chose Gadwin Printscreen (search for it if you’d prefer to follow this workshop exactly), though it doesn’t much matter which you pick.

At the next screen click the red Download now button and then choose Save file from the dialogue box. Sandboxie watches what we’re doing and saves the file to its sandbox, before offering to ‘recover’ the setup program for Gadwin Printscreen.

This is useful for trusted programs that you’d like to install normally. Since we don’t, click Close to run the installation securely inside the sandbox.

Once the setup file has been downloaded, use Windows Explorer to navigate to the folder where it’s stored and double-click the installation file. Then follow the instructions to install and start the program.

In this screenshot you can see Gadwin Printscreen running in the foreground as normal. However, look at the Sandboxie window and you’ll see that it’s actually running inside that – along with Firefox, the default web browser we used to download it. Let’s prove it.

Switch to the Sandboxie window, open the View menu and choose Files and Folders. The display will change to show a Windows Explorer-style tree.

Navigate to where your programs are usually stored – typically this will be on drive C, inside the Program Files folder. Here, you can see that Gadwin Printscreen clearly seems to be installed.

However, click Start, then Computer, then drive C and then Program Files to open Windows Explorer and the Gadwin Printscreen folder, program and installation files are nowhere to be seen – because they’re running inside the sandbox, safely tucked away from the rest of the PC.

Once confident that a program is working and isn’t likely to cause any problems, it can be recovered from the sandbox and used as normal from inside Windows.

First, exit the sandboxed program in question then, with the Sandboxie window open and the file list still displayed, navigate to the folder that contains the program to be moved out of the sandbox (in this example, the Gadwin Systems folder), right-click on it and choose Recover to Same Folder.

Depending on the version of Windows used and how it’s set up, one or more dialogue boxes may pop up to request administrator privileges to move the program folder out of the sandbox – click Continue.

Next, use Windows Explorer to navigate to the Program Files folder on drive C as we did in Step 6. This time, the folder is visible because it’s been moved out of the secure sandbox and into Windows proper.

Here we’ve double-clicked on the Printscreen program file and it’s now running normally in Windows.

The last thing to do is to tidy up. Flip back to the main Sandboxie window and open the Sandbox menu. Select Default Box and then choose Delete Contents from the sub-menu.

At the next screen, leave all the settings as they are and click the Delete Contents button at the bottom. This will remove both the setup file originally downloaded in Step 4 and anything else left behind by the program when it was first run back in Step 5.

Having cleared the contents, you will be left with an empty sandbox as shown in the screenshot. Sandboxie can do lots of other stuff too. It can, for example, manage multiple sandboxes so that lots of different programs can be run inside them.

Alternatively, consider using the Sandboxie Web Browser option all the time, so you never have to worry about clicking a dodgy-looking link again. Check the Sandboxie website for more details about these and other features.