UPDATE: Instagram has recently added a new feature to the the Instagram.com website that renders this spoofing technique unnecessary. You can now post directly to Instagram from a desktop or laptop computer without resorting to tricks or apps.
Instagram is designed primarily as a service to be used with mobile devices. But there are all sorts of reasons you might want to post photos from a desktop or laptop computer rather than a phone. You can, of course, send the photo from your computer to your phone and upload it from there, but that gets cumbersome pretty quickly.
There are, however, ways to post directly from a computer, and I’ve been putting together a series of guides for several good methods. Some use third-party apps and services. Some use emulators. This is a guide on how to use a regular web browser like Chrome or Safari without needing to buy a separate app or install a browser plugin.
Using Instagram with a Desktop Web Browser
You can access the Instagram website with a regular web browser on a desktop or laptop, but as you’ve no doubt already found, it’s a stripped-down version.
When you’re logged into your account through the website on a desktop browser, you can view photos, like photos, and even comment on photos, but one thing you can’t do is post new photos. There’s no way to upload them—the usual camera icon isn’t there, like this:
But there’s a way to alter the behavior of your browser to make Instagram think that you’re accessing it through a mobile device. It’s taking advantage of two things. The first is that Instagram now has a special version it shows to mobile devices that includes the upload function. The second is that you can convince the Instagram site that you’re accessing it from a mobile device, even if you’re using a desktop web browser. It’s using what’s known as user agent emulation or user agent spoofing (sometimes just UA spoofing). When you access the site with this method, it looks very similar to the regular version you see in a web browser, but you’ll notice that it now includes the camera icon for creating new posts:
I’ve put together guides on how to do it with the major browsers; they’re below.
But first, it’s worth explaining that this isn’t some black-hat, frowned-upon process like spoofing phone numbers is for phone spam. Spoofing a user agent is a perfectly legitimate and standard tool for testing websites. That’s why it’s built into the browser developer tools. So you’re not doing something you shouldn’t by doing this.
Before we get to the how-tos for specific browsers, it’s worth mentioning some limitations of this method.
This method emulates a mobile device accessing the Instagram website. It is not the same thing as using something like Bluestacks to emulate running the Instagram app.
That’s important because not every feature of the Instagram app is available through the Instagram mobile website. You can upload a photo and add a caption, but there are some basic Instagram features that aren’t available through the web interface.
Filters. You don’t have the option to apply filters.
Multi-photo posts. Instagram recently added the option to include multiple images or videos in a single post. That’s not available through the website—you can only upload one image at a time to create a single post.
In-photo tagging. You can still tag someone in the comment section, but you can’t tag someone within the photo.
Editing captions after publishing. To edit a post’s caption after it has been published, you’ll still need to use the mobile app.
User Agent Spoofing with Instagram
Basically, the user agent is a piece of code that the browser sends to the website to tell it information about the browser and operating system you’re using. The website can then show a display version of the website designed for that device’s layout.
If you have your own website and have used something like Google Analytics to track what browsers your site’s visitors are using, that’s where that information comes from. In case you’re interested, here’s an example of some of the information that’s sent to websites I might visit when using Chrome on a Mac:
Mozilla/5.0 (Macintosh; Intel macOS 10_12_5) AppleWebKit/537.36 (KHTML, like Gecko) Chrome/58.0.3029.81 Safari/537.36
The method used here changes that information to match a browser on an iOS or Android device. And that, in turn, tells the Instagram site to display its new mobile version.
Modern browsers have a way to test what a site looks like with different devices and browsers. It’s designed mainly to be able to test responsive designs to see how they look on mobile devices. And it’s a feature that can be used here to make the Instagram website think that we’re accessing it through a mobile device rather than a desktop browser.
I’ll go through it with some of the major browsers below. I’m doing it on Mac; Windows versions are very similar.
For all of these, log in to your Instagram account through the web browser first (technically, it doesn’t matter whether you’re logged in first or not; it just simplifies these guides if you are).
Posting to Instagram with Chrome
Go to View > Developer > Developer Tools.
That’s going to open the Developer Tools panel. Depending on the layout of your screen and browser, it might pop up in a separate tab or might be at the bottom of your active tab. It doesn’t matter which.
You’ll see a lot of code, menus, and tabs. For this, you can safely ignore nearly all of it. Look for the small icon at the top left that shows a phone and tablet (yes, that’s what those are….).
Click on it. The browser window will now transform to the dimensions of a specific smartphone or tablet.
You can change what phone using the drop-down menu, although it really doesn’t matter too much which preset you use here so long as it’s a standard mobile device.
So it now looks just like the mobile app. And, importantly, you can now see the camera icon. So you can use it just like the mobile app—use the camera icon to create a new post by browsing for a new photo and uploading it.
If you’re using the privacy-centric browser Brave, this also works the same way because Brave is based on Chrome. As are some other smaller-circulation browsers.
Posting to Instagram with Safari
Go to Develop > User Agent > Safari – iOS 10 – iPhone.
If you don’t see the “Develop” option in the menu, you can enable it by going to Preferences > Advanced and checking the box at the bottom for “Show Develop menu in menu bar.”
The page should refresh and show the camera icon at the top, like this:
Posting to Instagram with Firefox
Until recently, you needed to install a plugin to do this with Firefox, but that’s changed with recent versions. So make sure you’re using the latest version of Firefox first.
First, go to Instagram.com and log into your account.
From Firefox’s main menu, go to Tools > Web Developer > Responsive Design Mode. (You can also use a keyboard shortcut to toggle it. On Mac, it’s CMD+OPT+M.)
You should then see a small, responsive version of the site that includes the add photo button. (You might need to refresh the page.) If you want to use a larger viewport, click on the bar at the top that says “no device selected” and choose a device with a larger screen).
Posting to Instagram with Microsoft Edge / Internet Explorer
Press F12 to open Developer Tools.
Find the Emulation tab and choose a mobile device from the list of options.
The better modern browsers have some variation of this kind of development mode user agent emulation, but I haven’t tested it on every browser. I’m focusing mainly on the most common (thanks to user agents, I know that 92 percent of visitors to my site use either Chrome, Safari, or Firefox, with the remaining 8 percent split among various other browsers).
If it doesn’t work on your browser, Chrome is probably the simplest multi-OS option. Or if you’re using a Mac, Safari works just as well.
Some users report that it doesn’t work right away for them. In many cases, it’s a caching issue.
This is a running list of troubleshooting ideas that I’ll add to as users report issues with the upload/camera icon not becoming visible.
- Can’t see the camera icon. If you’re using Firefox (or another browser not mentioned above), make sure you’re not using the Firefox function that only changes the display port. It’s a two-step process on Firefox, and you’ll need to change the user agent either with the manual method (link above) or a user agent spoofing plugin.
- Can’t see the camera icon. After you’ve changed the user agent, refresh the page. I’ve found it usually does that itself, but it’s possible that it might have done that. It’s also potentially possible for browser caching to be showing you a non-refreshed version, so you could try clearing the browser cache and then reloading.
- Don’t have the Develop menu in Safari. If you don’t see the “Develop” option in the menu, you can enable it by going to Preferences > Advanced and checking the box at the bottom for “Show Develop menu in menu bar.”