Jul 6, 2023
8 minutes

Setting up a Microsoft 365 Sandbox in Less Than 5 Minutes

Setting up a Microsoft 365 Sandbox in Less Than 5 Minutes

A powerful tool in testing new platforms that work with Microsoft365 is setting up a sandbox environment. If you aren’t familiar with this hidden gem, Microsoft will give you, for free, a full-blown Microsoft 365 setup with 25 users with E5 (the more expensive kind) licenses.

It lasts for 90 days, and the use is limited to testing and development. However, the requirements to obtain a sandbox aren’t always clearly documented elsewhere and so, here are three easy steps to get you going.

(The second part of the article contains more information for you to dig into.)

Sign up for the Microsoft 365 Developer Program

Microsoft 365 Developer Program website

Sign up for the Microsoft 365 Developer Program. It is straightforward, and anyone can get it. If you already have a Microsoft account, even if it's associated with your personal email, you will just need to provide some very basic information and answer two multiple choice questions:

  • Country, Company, Language Preference
  • Focus as a developer: “Appliances for internal use at my company”
  • Areas of interest: “Microsoft Graph”

Note there are many Areas of Interest but for our use case we need the “Microsoft Graph.”

Create an Instant Sandbox Environment

Microsoft 365 E5 Sandbox website

Once your account is created, you will be instantly prompted to create a sandbox account.

Pick the Instant Sandbox option as it’s the fastest and likely what you want. Keep an eye on your email as we have noticed the site doesn't always refresh once setup is complete. The domain specified in your email will be your sandbox domain.

Oh, you’ll likely also need to provide a phone number to verify your account (and prevent abuse, we guess).

Validate your sandbox with Alcion

Your instant sandbox comes populated with data including emails, calendars, and SharePoint sites. Now you are all set to try it with Alcion. Just go over to, log in with your sandbox credentials, and you will be off to the races. You can both validate your sandbox and start your first backups within 5-10 minutes! Seriously, try it out.

Questions and limitations

Remember that the sandbox will only stick around for 90 days (although you can often renew it), and it is restricted to development and testing. If you have questions, find us on Discord!

Part #2 (If you need more help please continue reading. )

How to integrate Alcion with the Free Microsoft 365 E5 instant sandbox environment

Check out a Quick video or follow our Quick Start guide below.

Step 1: Sign Up for Alcion

Step 2: Login with Microsoft Credentials: Use your Microsoft 365 developer program credentials to log into Alcion. Alcion uses OAuth for secure authentication, requiring no additional login setup. Ensure you review and approve these permissions, which are necessary for Alcion to perform backups and restorations.

Step 3: Continue reading our Quick Start guide.

Microsoft 365 Developer Program: Areas of Interest

When you sign up for the program, you're asked to select your "Areas of Interest." These areas guide the type of resources, updates, and tailored content you might receive as part of the program. They can include, but are not limited to, the following options:

  • Microsoft Graph: This is the one we used in our use case. The Graph API allows developers to integrate and manage access to data, insights, and intelligence across Microsoft 365 services with a unified API endpoint.
  • Teams Development: This option is specifically designed for developers working on apps or integrations for Microsoft Teams. It enables customization and extension of Teams capabilities for collaboration and communication.
  • SharePoint Framework: If you plan to build web parts, extensions, and applications for SharePoint and SharePoint Online this area of interest is for you.
  • Office Add-ins: This option is about the development of add-ins that extend and enhance the capabilities of Office applications like Excel, Word, Outlook, and PowerPoint.
  • Outlook Development: Focuses on extending Outlook through add-ins and integrations, enhancing email and calendar functionalities.
  • Power Platform: Covers building solutions using Power Apps, Power Automate (formerly Microsoft Flow), Power BI, and Power Virtual Agents.
  • Security and Compliance: It is about leveraging Microsoft 365 security and compliance features to build secure applications, manage risk, and protect data.
  • Education: Focuses on developing solutions tailored for educational institutions, teachers, and students using Microsoft 365 Education tools and services.
  • Windows Development: If you are developing applications for Windows devices or integrating your apps with the Windows ecosystem, this area of interest is relevant to you. Relates to building applications for Windows 10 and Windows Server, including UWP (Universal Windows Platform) apps and desktop applications.

What do I get with the Free Microsoft 365 E5 Instant Sandbox?

With the free Microsoft 365 E5 Instant Sandbox, you receive a fully functional, pre-populated environment that allows you to test and develop applications for various Microsoft 365 services. This sandbox includes:

Microsoft 365 Developer Program E5 image

  • Comprehensive Access to Microsoft 365 E5 Services: Developers gain access to a wide array of Microsoft 365 E5 services, including but not limited to, Office 365 (Exchange Online, SharePoint Online, OneDrive for Business), Microsoft Teams, Power Automate, Power Apps, and more.
  • Microsoft Graph API access: The ability to connect your applications to a vast array of data and services across Microsoft products and platforms using the Microsoft Graph API.
  • Pre-populated sandbox domain: A test domain that comes with pre-configured users, groups, and data for you to experiment with.
  • Sample Data Packs: Microsoft provides sample data packs that can be used to populate the sandbox with realistic data, simulating an actual organization's environment.
  • Enterprise Mobility + Security (EMS): Features like Azure Active Directory Premium P1, Intune, Information Protection, and Advanced Threat Analytics are included in the sandbox.
  • Subscription Duration and Renewal: The sandbox subscription is typically valid for 90 days but can be extended based on active development and testing within the environment. Microsoft evaluates activity to automatically renew subscriptions that show ongoing development work.
  • No Cost: The sandbox is provided free of charge to members of the Microsoft 365 Developer Program, offering significant value without the financial investment required for a full E5 subscription.
  • Learning and Community Support: Developers have access to Microsoft's extensive documentation, tutorials, and developer community support to help accelerate development and solve challenges.

Should I choose an instant sandbox or a configurable sandbox?

Choosing between an instant sandbox and a configurable sandbox in the Microsoft 365 Developer Program depends on your needs.  

The instant sandbox offers a quick setup with pre-provisioned Microsoft Teams, SharePoint, Outlook, and Office, including licenses for 24 test users plus one admin, pre-installed sample data, and no option to customize your domain name.  

The configurable sandbox allows for domain name customization and requires manual sample data installation, which can take up to two days to provision.  

Both options are aimed at development purposes only and include 25 user licenses. For more detailed guidance, visit Microsoft Learn.

What happens after the 90-day sandbox period ends?

When the 90-day period of the Microsoft 365 E5 Developer Sandbox expires, the availability of the sandbox environment and its resources for development and testing purposes may change, depending on user activity and engagement. Microsoft has designed the program to support active developers.

Once the trial period ends, all user accounts, data, and configurations will be deleted, so make sure to save any essential information or test results before the expiration date.

Extension of the Sandbox

  • Activity-Based Extension: Microsoft may automatically extend your Microsoft 365 E5 Developer Sandbox if you're actively developing in the environment. This extension is designed to support ongoing development projects and encourage continuous learning and experimentation with Microsoft 365 technologies.
  • Criteria for Extension: The criteria for automatic renewal typically include making development-related API calls, deploying and testing applications, and using the sandbox for development purposes rather than for production or passive use.
  • Checking Extension Eligibility: You can often check your renewal status and eligibility directly within the Microsoft 365 Developer Program dashboard or by receiving notifications from Microsoft regarding your subscription status.

Options if the Sandbox Expires

  • Reapply for a New Sandbox: If your sandbox expires and is not automatically renewed, you may have the option to reapply for a new Microsoft 365 E5 Developer Sandbox through the Microsoft 365 Developer Program, subject to the program's current terms and availability.
  • Purchase a Microsoft 365 subscription: If you are planning to continue developing applications for Microsoft 365, consider purchasing a paid subscription plan to access dedicated sandboxes and ongoing support from Microsoft. This transition allows you to retain your environment setup, data, and customizations without interruption.
  • Set up your own development environment: Use cloud services like Azure Virtual Machines or other virtualization platforms to create custom environments that meet your specific needs. This option allows you more flexibility in terms of configuration and scalability but may require additional technical expertise and resources.
  • Explore Alternative Development Environments: Depending on your development needs, exploring other Microsoft-sponsored or third-party development environments might be beneficial. For instance, local development setups for SharePoint Framework (SPFx) development or using emulators for Teams development.

Tips and Best Practices related to setting up and using a Microsoft 365 Sandbox environment

Setting up and using a Microsoft 365 Sandbox environment can be an essential step in developing applications for the platform. To make the most of your sandbox experience, consider the following tips and best practices:

  • Plan your testing strategy: Before you start developing or testing your application, take some time to plan your testing strategy. Identify the key features and functionalities that you want to test, and create a list of scenarios and use cases that will help you evaluate their performance in a real world experience.
  • Implement security measures: To protect your data and users, implement security measures like Azure Backup (AAB) service. This service allows you to store copies of your user data and other essentials in an encrypted format, ensuring that only authorized individuals can access and use them.
  • Troubleshoot common issues: When setting up or using a Microsoft 365 Sandbox environment, you may encounter common issues. Some examples include: difficulties with the Azure Active Directory (AADD) service, authentication problems, or issues related to the configuration of your sandbox. To address these issues effectively and efficiently, make sure that you are familiar with the process and have a clear understanding of how they can be resolved.
  • Monitor Performance: It is essential for developers to monitor performance in their applications. This helps identify potential performance bottlenecks early on, allowing them to optimize and improve their application's overall performance before they even start using it. To do this effectively and efficiently, make sure that you are familiar with the process and have a clear understanding of how they can be resolved.
  • Regularly Update Your Application: It is essential for developers to regularly update their applications as new features or updates are released by Microsoft 365. This helps ensure that your application remains current and relevant within the constantly evolving market landscape, allowing it to continue thriving and prospering. To do this effectively and efficiently, make sure that you are familiar with the process and have a clear understanding of how they can be resolved.


What is the M365 Developer Program?

The Microsoft 365 Developer Program offers tools and resources to build applications leveraging the Microsoft 365 platform, including Office 365, Windows, and Enterprise Mobility + Security suite.

What's included in the developer subscription?

Key features included in the subscription are:

  • 25 User Licenses for development, including the administrator.
  • Preconfigured Environments for sideloading Teams apps.
  • Core Microsoft 365 Workloads and Capabilities: Access to Office 365 apps, Power Platform tools, and more.
  • Sample Data Packs including Teams data for expedited development.
  • Access to Microsoft 365 Experts through community events.

For more detailed information, visit the Microsoft 365 Developer Program page and the Microsoft 365 Developer Program FAQ.

Niraj Tolia
Niraj Tolia
CEO and Co-Founder, Alcion

Niraj Tolia is the co-founder and CEO at Alcion. Previously, he was the co-founder and CEO at Kasten, the leading and award-winning Kubernetes backup company that was acquired by Veeam in 2020. Post-acquisition, he continued, as General Manager and President of the Kasten by Veeam business unit, to accelerate the growth of Veeam’s cloud-native business. With a strong technical background in distributed systems, storage, and data management, he previously held leadership roles, including Senior Director of Engineering at Dell EMC and VP of Engineering and Chief Architect at Maginatics (acquired by EMC). Dr. Tolia received his PhD, MS, and BS in Computer Engineering from Carnegie Mellon University.