The best way to explain this is to start by looking at what each of these is, before looking at sandbox vs. developer environment.
What is a sandbox environment? These virtual environments are used to build, test, and deploy software in a process often known as “virtual sandboxing.” They’re named after children’s sandboxes (sometimes called sandpits), which are areas where they can play and experiment, creating structures such as sandcastles in a contained environment, without making a mess.
In technology terms, a sandbox is also an isolated, “safe” area for experimentation. It’s where new code can be run and tested out in a setting approximating real-life but without the risk of disrupting the apps and data that are currently “live” and in use. Sandbox environments are often used during the process of developing new software, as well as to identify and fix bugs, study malicious code, and test software patches. Sandbox environments can also be used for “sandbox training,” where people can learn to use or understand technology products and services in a consequence-free space.
A developer environment is specifically for the use of software developers. This is where much of the actual building of software takes place. Like in a sandbox, the apps and data in a development environment aren’t the live systems and applications that end users are accessing, because that would introduce disruption and risk.
However, developer environments aren’t the best places to test and deploy new software – they’re not designed for it. They may not be accessible or easy-to-use for non-developers who may be conducting testing or using a trial deployment. What’s more, it’s unlikely a developer environment will precisely replicate the conditions of a real-life deployment, within the specific conditions of your technology infrastructure – because, once again, it’s not designed to do that.
Think of the difference between sandbox vs. developer environment as the difference between a racetrack and a garage. The garage (development environment) is the best place to build a racecar in the first place. But it’s not designed for test-drives. On a racetrack (sandbox) you have a replication of the conditions and environment your car would be under when it’s actually used in real life. That means it’s the best place for you to try it out, see how it handles and performs, and where adjustments need to be made.