One of the more popular staging environment builders is LocalWP by Flywheel. Whether you’re developing a custom WordPress theme, going to maintain a current WordPress site, or planning to test a plugin, you’d likely download LocalWP. That way, you can run tests and experiment all you want without fear of permanently breaking your actual site. 

However, as much as LocalWP has many benefits (i.e. it’s free to use), it also has a lot of limitations. If you’ve pondered exploring alternatives for sandbox site creation, InstaWP should be on your radar.

Why use InstaWP as a LocalWP alternative? Is it easier to use? Does it have more perks and benefits?

Keep reading—that’s what we will tackle in this article!

What is LocalWP?

We’ve already taken up LocalWP in this article before, but here’s a quick recap. LocalWP, also known simply as Local, is a WordPress development tool created by Flywheel, which later sold it to WPEngine. As mentioned above, it’s used to simplify creating a staging environment for WordPress development.

LocalWP by Flywheel is very popular among WordPress developers since it’s free and generally easy to use. All you have to do is download it, create an account, and start developing. 

Oh, and aside from it being zero cost and intuitive, it also has features like Cloud Backups with either Google Drive and Dropbox, Direct site push/pull with Flywheel or WP Engine, meaning you can take your site live after development, and the ability to hot-swap between different PHP environments or MySQL versions.

Plus, you get access to community forums, documentation, and release notes, so you’ll never feel blind or alone when using LocalWP. Any questions you might have about LocalWP will be answered right away.

However, the term “local” in LocalWP means that your staging environment will only be available on the computer where you download the software. That already makes it different from InstaWP, which is an online tool.

What is InstaWP?

InstaWP is the brainchild of Vikas Singhal. As related here, he had always felt the need for a tool to launch WordPress test sites and take them live quickly afterward. After trying various methods, he finally built InstaWP. 

A few months after development, he looked to see if anyone would be interested in funding his technology. So he contacted various people, including Matt from Automattic, incidentally the makers of WordPress. And to his delight and surprise, Automattic’s team invested in InstaWP! 

So, InstaWP is another tool you can use to create a sandbox site—and this time, it’s online. Today, this product has lot more to offer than just spinning a staging environment. You can also use InstaWP for setting up product demos, WaaS creation, and a lot more. 

Just like LocalWP, it’s free—and you even have the option to use it with no InstaWP account. However, your test site will expire after eight hours, meaning if you still want to experiment, you’d have to do everything again and finish within the limited time frame.

Not an attractive idea nor a good use of your time, agree?

Better is, of course, to sign up for an account. And when you’ve confirmed your account, you can use InstaWP’s site creation capabilities in three ways.

The Tool

When you log into your www.instawp.com account, you’ll arrive at the InstaWP Dashboard:

Press the + New Site button in the middle and you’ll be taken to this menu:

As you can see, you’ll already be able to pre-install plugins in your test site, such as those displayed in the image above. You can also choose from categories, such as Security, SEO, Forms, and so on. Once you’re done browsing and selecting plugins, click the + Create Site button on the lower right.

You will then get this notification:

Press the Magic Login button to be taken to your test site.

Once redirection is done, you’ll arrive at your test WordPress site:

You can now start playing around with this sandbox like it’s an actual WordPress site. And when you’re happy, you can take it Live. Just go back to the InstaWP Dashboard, look for your site, hover your cursor over the three dots on the right, which leads to More Actions.

Click it, then look for the Migrate V2. You’ll be able to take your site live!

The Plugin

The plugin is ideal if you already have an existing website and you want to develop it further. On your actual WordPress site, search for InstaWP Connect from the Plugins > Add New page.

Install and activate it, then when you’re taken to the Plugins menu automatically, look for InstaWP Connect. Press the Create Site button.

If you haven’t connected your InstaWP account yet to your WordPress account, you will receive this notification:

Press the Connect button, and you’ll be taken to your InstaWP Dashboard. This notice will appear:

Just press Approve, and you will be redirected to your WordPress account. This time, though, you’ll get a different screen:

You’ll now be able to modify how much of your real site you’ll copy. We recommend Full Staging if you want to see your site’s capabilities without fear of breaking it. Whatever you choose from these staging options, click the Next Step button for the next screen:

For this one, you can choose if you want also to install the themes and plugins you currently have, or none at all. Click the Next Step button and you’ll arrive at the confirmation screen:

Press Create Staging and you’ll see InstaWP working to copy your live site:

You’ll then get a notification that your site is ready:

And in case you close the window accidentally, don’t worry: the copy of your live site will appear in your InstaWP Dashboard.

Now you can start tweaking it all you want. You’ll also be able to rest easy knowing that it’s just a copy of your site, so you cannot break your site, lose your customers, and plummet your search engine rank.

The Chrome Extension

If you use Google Chrome as a WordPress developer, you should check out these ten Chrome extensions that can make your life easier. One of them is InstaWP’s Google Chrome extension, called InstaWP Launcher.

When you install this, you can go to any plugin or theme at https://wordpress.org/ and launch it for your test site. For example, let’s check out the themes. We’ll look at the Twenty Twenty-One theme. 

And since the Chrome extension has been installed, you’ll see the green button that says Launch. And when you click it, you’ll be automatically taken to your WordPress Dashboard.

Notice the “1 Theme Installed” part? Press the Magic Login, go to your Themes, and you’ll see your chosen theme waiting for you to try it.

And as mentioned earlier, you can do the same with plugins. Go to plugins again on https://wordpress.org/. This time, let’s go to the Yoast plugin.

Again, you’ll see the green Launch button. Press it, and you’ll be taken to your Dashboard with this notification:

This time, it says, “1 Plugin Installed.” And you can find out if that’s true. Click on Magic Login and check out your Installed Plugins. As you will see, Yoast is there:

All you need to do is activate it, and you’re good to go.

Note that the Chrome extension is best if you just want to try starting with one thing in particular, whether it’s a plugin or a theme. You can still install the usual themes and plugins via the old method, which is going to the specific menus for Themes and Plugins, so don’t worry in case you want to try more. Remember, your sandbox site functions like a real WordPress site.

Common Uses of InstaWP and LocalWP

We’re sure you’re already starting to see some of InstaWP’s advantages as a LocalWP alternative. But if you’re still not convinced, we understand. After all, you can use either one of these testing environments or the following:

  • Safe Experimentation: You can try out new features, themes, or plugins without the risk of breaking your live, actual site. LocalWP might have the advantage here a bit because it’s offline. That means you really won’t be making any mistakes, such as accidentally working on your actual WordPress account.
  • Bug Identification: You can also use InstaWP or LocalWP by Flywheel to check for bugs before permanently changing your live site. That way, you can be absolutely sure that nothing will go wrong on your real site.
  • Version Testing: Ever heard of WordPress Beta? It’s the term for upcoming versions of WordPress, which, while not entirely finalized, is developed for you to assess its compatibility with your website. Installing it directly on your live site is not advisable, as you could unexpectedly discover compatibility issues. InstaWP and LocalWP can let you safely test this update to the WordPress core.
  • Maintenance: You can’t just develop your website; you’ll also need to maintain it. Again, both tools will let you optimize sites and make performance improvements before pushing them live. Your visitor count or transactions will not be affected even while your doing maintenance. Cool, huh?
  • Teaching WordPress: Have you read our case study about Website-tutor.de? One of his uses for InstaWP is to teach people how to use WordPress and make them confident. You can do the same thing with LocalWP.
  • Staging to Production Workflow: Using either staging environment gives you a systematic process of moving changes from development to production, ensuring you get consistent and reliable deployments.

Comparison Of InstaWP Versus LocalWP

As you can see, the uses of both LocalWP and InstaWP can actually overlap with one another. But in this section, we’ll now make specific comparisons—and you’ll see how InstaWP can actually be better for your WordPress development workflow.

Speed

With LocalWP, you’ll have to go through plenty of steps. Depending on your connection, you’ll have to download the app (which can take a while). And sadly, if you don’t have a WordPress account yet—maybe you just want to play around first—you’ll have to make one, as it is required by LocalWP immediately.

We do know that things like this can take time—time that you can just use to start developing your site, right?

InstaWP lets you work faster. Creating test sites takes seconds, whether an entirely new site, one with preloaded templates and plugins, or a site copy. You won’t need to make any WordPress account either. You’ll be good to go as long as you have a fast Internet connection and your computer has good enough specs to handle the browser you’re using.

Ease of Use

Related to how fast to use and how fast the programs run is the ease of use. We can say that both programs are pretty straightforward to use. Follow each step, and pretty soon, you can start working on your test WordPress sites.

However, one problem with LocalWP is that it relies on your machine since it is an offline tool. If you run many programs while using LocalWP, Local WP might not work correctly. And even if you update it, it may not necessarily help, as seen in this discussion on a Reddit forum:

InstaWP has no such problem:

Uses

LocalWP is great at being a WordPress sandbox… and sad to say, that’s really its only true purpose. On the other hand, you can also use InstaWP to share your templates or do product demos like these ones:

InstaWP makes showing your work off to clients easier than ever!

Accessibility

Another challenge of LocalWP by Flywheel is that since it’s offline, the program is limited to the machine where you installed it. That means you can only edit your work when you have your device. And if you have team member who need to work on it when you’re not available, you’re going to have to export everything you did, and send it to them.

They’ll then need to install LocalWP on their device, download your work, and then finally start working on it. Talk about a very inconvenient workflow, right?

Plus, if you’re working for a client, you’ll have a hard time sharing the progress of your work with them. LocalWP does have Live Links, but they can be a bit buggy, as seen in this forum question

That’s why InstaWP is a great LocalWP alternative. Since it’s online, you can access it on any computer you have (or even any device) and share your site with team members and clients in real time.

Customizability

One more drawback of LocalWP is its inability to create a test site with pre-installed plugins or themes. Instead, you’ll have to install LocalWP, create a sandbox site, navigate to WordPress, download their chosen themes and plugins, and install them onto Local. This sequence can be quite tedious.

In contrast, as mentioned above, InstaWP offers the option of starting sites with pre-installed plugins and themes. This approach not only simplifies your setup process but also allows you to dedicate more time to the actual development of your WordPress site.

What Makes InstaWP a Better Pick in 2023?

Why should you pick InstaWP over LocalWP this year? Well, here are a few reasons:

  • Environment differences: A LocalWP environment may differ significantly from production servers. Your site may work on your device but will break when moved to a live server. InstaWP won’t have that problem since it’s online. Whatever you see on your demo site will be like your live site.
  • Easier collaboration: If you have a team, having a local development workflow is harder, especially if you have different machines AND you are located in different places. Since InstaWP is online, your team can work on your website anytime and anywhere.
  • Backups are easier: InstaWP being online means all your work is saved on the cloud. With LocalWP, if ever your machine breaks, you will no longer have access to your WordPress test site. Sure, you can backup with Google Drive or Dropbox, but you’ll have to set it up first. What if you forget, right?
  • Faster updates: LocalWP is software that has to be updated every time changes are made. That will slow you down. On the other hand, with InstaWP, you’ll always get the latest version when you load the site. 
  • No device dependency: As highlighted earlier, if your device breaks and you haven’t created a backup, your LocalWP files and software could be lost. And what if your computer encounters a virus and you don’t have the proper malware protection? Thankfully, with InstaWP, you won’t have these concerns.

Overcoming the Migration Issues that You Face with LocalWP By Flywheel

We covered this in a previous article, but here’s a recap: You can only export your LocalWP site via 1-click deployment to Flywheel or WPEngine when you’re done developing. But what if you’re not using either of these hosts?

Well, don’t worry: there’s a workaround! Remember the InstaWP plugin we discussed above? Install that on your LocalWP site, follow the steps, and you’ll get a copy of your site on your InstaWP dashboard—which you can then export to any of the following:

  • WP Cloud
  • RunCloud
  • Cloudways
  • WP Bolt
  • Pressable
  • Server Avatar
  • SpinupWP

You can even take your site live with InstaWP by mapping your domain to an InstaWP site you’ve created.

It’s that easy!

Conclusion: InstaWP Is A Great LocalWP Alternative

Developing WordPress sites locally has always been a standard practice for many WordPress developers. After all, it doesn’t require an internet connection and gives developers full control. And when it comes to local development, few can stand against LocalWP—it’s free, easy to use, and has plenty of valuable features.

However, a bitter fact is that LocalWP is not the best tool for remote teams developing WordPress sites day in and out. If you are looking for a sandbox tool that can give you more, try InstaWP today. You’ll get a lightning fast workflow, easier collaborations and accessibility, better customizations, and a whole lot more.